If you speak to the youth in Zimbabwe, they will most likely say the 1st May is just another ordinary day. But not so long ago, trade unions nationwide would hold special events, with the main celebrations at the National Stadium in the capital, where the masses would gather in solidarity. As the years have gone by, however, the attitude around Workers Day has shifted drastically, taking a downward spiral. Many no longer see it as a meaningful day to celebrate and bring attention to rights of workers, but rather an ‘off day’ to attend to personal matters. With unions diminished and a ban on unsanctioned demonstrations, there is a general workers’ fatigue.
The Law in Zimbabwe
According to section 55 of the Constitution, all Zimbabweans have a right to choose the type of work they want to be involved in and have freedom from forced labour. Labour rights are spelled out in section 65. The Labour Act protects workers from unfair practices. These practices and rights are still applicable in states of national disaster. Clause 5 of the Health Service Amendment Bill, now in Parliament, seeks to prohibit health workers from protesting by classifying the Health Service as an essential service. In Bill Watch 2/2022 Veritas criticised this clause as not only unconstitutional [for inconsistency with section 65] but also unnecessary, in view of the Labour Act’s provisions about essential services. the legislature should recognise the rights of medical personnel as afforded by the Constitution by amending this clause.
Workers in Zimbabwe
According to Good Governance Africa, Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate currently stands at more than 85%. Moreover, the International Labour Organisation [ILO] states that there are fewer than 900 000 citizens that are formally employed in Zimbabwe, with nearly 3 million earning a living through the informal sector. It is further estimated that the average salary of a formal worker in Zimbabwe is pegged at approximately US$230, with teachers earning much less [their average salary is a meagre ZWL$ 28 000 which can be converted to just over US$179 or so using the interbank rate]. To exacerbate the already desperate status quo, in mid-April this year, the price of the most basic commodity, bread, shot up to US $2 per loaf.
As we take time to reflect on the true essence of Worker’s Day, there is a need for us to rethink how working conditions in Zimbabwe have evolved over the past 42 years. Motivating workers will not only require the Government to create a conducive investment environment for firms to prosper and employ more workers and to ensure that the laws protect workers; employers will also have to get into the habit of creating good and sustainable environments for their workers. It will take a team effort.
As we commemorate Worker’s Day this year, the general atmosphere surrounding the day in Zimbabwe should not and cannot be ignored. And whilst it might all be doom and gloom for the most part, perseverance is of the essence. In the words of Vladimir Lenin, “he who does not work, does not eat”.