May Day came this year amidst a number of misfortunes befalling workers in Zimbabwe. Many have lost their formal jobs over the past year, months and weeks and it remains a mystery how government plans to deliver two million promised jobs through their economic blueprint, ZIMASSET.
Just last week, Telecel had its license cancelled by government. Customers were given 30 days to find alternative networks. While the cancellation has since been suspended, it seemed – for most of the past week – that 1 000 of the mobile telecommunications company’s workers were certain to be unemployed in a month’s time; they are just some of many who did not celebrate Workers’ Day this year.
The last two weeks of April saw Pioneer Transport, a public transport company dismiss 100 of its workers. The last 20 were relieved of their duties just three days before May Day. The company is reported to have recalled 30 of its buses from local routes.
Afriasia Bank closed shop earlier this year forcing hundreds of its former employees to turn to the impossible task of job-seeking. Last week, nurses at Chitungwiza Hospital and workers for the Gweru City council went on strike, demanding their outstanding salaries and allowances. Worst of all, the biggest employer – the government- who are expected to lead by example, has been exposed to have not settled civil servants’, debts for the past three months exposing its unsuspecting employees to legal action from creditors.
It is also no secret that many civil servants are living in fear of losing their jobs after it was revealed through the grapevine that the government intends to cut its current wage bill by retrenching some of its workers. This is the exhausting background under which Zimbabwe celebrated Workers Day in 2015.
With all these challenges haunting the Zimbabwean people, you would think this is the right time for the country to have a united trade union force working towards saving the worker from this dire predicament. But alas, it is the debate of different ideologies, political interference and leadership wrangles that is still determining the course of action for the various trade unions in the country.
Zimbabwe’s main trade unions
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions ( ZCTU), the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU) The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions Concerned Affiliates (ZCTU-CA) and the United Food and Allied Workers Union ( UFAWU) are the four main trade unions in the country. These are the unions Zimbabweans currently look to for solutions to restore the pride of the worker.
The president of UFAWU, Adonia Mutero, argued that the main problem that the country is facing is the absence of a united movement whose sole aim is safeguarding the right of the worker.
“There is absence of independence in the labour movement. We need a movement that is free of political interference”, argued Mutero.
In this regard, his organisation’s theme for this year’s Worker’s Day was “Towards the re-foundation of an independent, democratic and united labour movement to fight against the barbarism of Neo-liberalism.”
The George Nkiwane-led ZCTU held its commemorations under the theme, “Workers under siege, stand up and fight on!”.
Nkiwane pointed out that in as much as workers have the Labour Act which is meant to protect the worker,this is not the case.
“Companies aren’t paying workers not because they are broke, but because they are greedy”, said Nkiwane
In explaining their theme, he highlighted the plight of the worker at the hands of capitalists whom he referred to as companies that were taking advantage of the dire economic conditions not to pay their workers. He says that companies owned by capitalists are trying to make the most of the little profit they are making by cutting down on workers’ salaries or by avoiding paying them completely.
In as much as he blamed the politicisation of policies by government, it also remains unclear if his union has managed to separate its operations from those of the MDC-T, a political party which he admits his union played a big role in its creation.
It is this lack of clarity in the separation of roles that Raymond Majongwe says justifies the existence of ZCTU-Concerned Affiliates.
Majongwe is the Secretary General of a break-away formation of the ZCTU which is identified as ZCTU-Concerned Affiliates as well as Secretary General of The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe.
Majongwe seemed to share the same sentiments with Nkiwane and showed zero support for the fact that most employees have been reduced to casual workers.
“Employers are now instructing workers to work for 2 or 3 days a week in order to justify salary cuts”, said Majongwe. “Even if workers were to decide to seek legal action they could not afford it. Besides, the process is too long,” he added.
Majongwe’s union may be disputing MDC-T’s interference in the operations of ZCTU, but we cannot completely dismiss the fact that interest in leadership positions by some individuals is also a contributing factor to the formation of this break-away faction.
From the above, it is evident there is a similar appreciation of the problems that have made the lives of the ordinary Zimbabwean and worker unbearable. The main question of the day now becomes what solutions does the existence of these unions bring to the hungry, unemployed, retrenched and jobless Zimbabwean?
Any faith left in trade unionism in Zimbabwe?
Politicisation of the worker movement is no doubt a major contributing factor. It is no secret that ZCTU played a principal role in the formation one of the most powerful opposition political parties in Zimbabwe, the MDC. The powerful movement reacting to the economic performance of the Zimbabwean economy resulted in the formation of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC in 1999. Tsvangirai was the union’s Secretary General from 1986 to 2000. It is argued and believed that it was in reaction to the close relationship of ZCTU and MDC that ZFTU was formed. These assertions have even directed the membership of these unions along party lines. Members of ZCTU are believed to be pro MDC-T whilst those of ZCTU are purported to be pro ZANU-PF.
These identities surely do not protect the worker from the current economic hardships, but instead perpetuate certain political ideologies. Whether one is in the public or private sector, we are all faced with the late payment of salaries. The rise in the number of worker grievances demands a worker movement that is effective enough to claim workers’ rights from the employer.
In as much as trade unions are in no position to immediately change the state of the economy, they should put more effort into demanding policies that can cushion the worker from extreme poverty as a result of unlawful retrenchment or non-payment of salaries. This is not possible if a union is aligned to a political party because advancing workers’ rights may result in a conflict of interest.
With unions operating to satisfy the needs of political parties, the worker remains the victim of capitalist tendencies by the employer and the perpetuation of selfish interests by trade unions and political party leadership.
Main photograph taken from www.professionaljeweller.com