Thousands of workers yesterday, along with their trade unions and non-governmental organisations, put up a united front and thronged Dzivarasekwa Stadium for the International Workers’ Day commemorations where they lashed out at government for violating labour rights.
Organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the celebrations came a few weeks after nurses were summarily dismissed by Vice President Constantino Chiwenga after they had embarked on a job action over low salaries and poor working conditions.
In its Workers Day solidarity message, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (The Forum) condemned government’s dictatorial tendencies when resolving labour disputes.
“The Forum strongly condemns the government’s heavy–handedness in responding to workers’ protests as seen in VP’s harsh response to the nurses’ strike. Section 65(2) and (3) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe recognises that every employee (except members of the security services) “has the right to participate in collective job action,” said Jestina Mukoko, The Forum Chairperson.
ZCTU President Peter Mutasa said that Zimbabwe was said to be open for business, it was shut as regards labour rights.
“Zimbabwe is open for business means Zimbabwe is open for oppression. Workers now work for no pay. If they protest, they are fired,” said Mutasa.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary-general Raymond Majongwe decried the limitations in labour laws.
“We must revisit the labour laws. Trade Unions in Zimbabwe have no rights. We saw nurses having to go and apologise to (Vice President) Chiwenga, but do nurses report to him? Even with civil servants such as teachers, there is no dialogue. There is no collective bargaining. Government makes teachers do what we call collective begging. But we will not let them take our rights from us,” said Majongwe.
ZCTU Secretary-General Japhet Moyo said that the legal framework that was used to suppress citizens by former President Robert Mugabe was still in place, curtailing civil liberties.
“The legal framework that was used by (former President) Mugabe is still in place. Laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) stop citizens and workers from exercising their Constitutional right to petition,” Moyo said.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) expressed concern over the long-term effects of government’s heavy-handedness in dealing with strikes.
“It is now understandable that some workers may now doubt the utility of fighting for their rights due to perceived unequal power in the tripartite bargaining process. This may stop workers affiliating with unions, in the process stopping unions from being an important voice in fostering social and economic justice,” the ILO representative said.
MDC Alliance and MDC-T President Nelson Chamisa said that workers should come first in a country.
“Government should prioritise workers’ issues, because workers are central to development in any country. It is surprising that the Labour Minister is not here today,” Chamisa said.
Vivid Gwede, ZimRights Association spokesperson, said that Hwange Colliery Company shows government’s dictatorial tendencies as: “it’s now wives demonstrating over their husbands’ unpaid salaried over three years because government has a stake in Hwange”.
Jeremiah Bamu from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said that: “The only new thing we are seeing in this new dispensation is that soldiers have removed uniforms and are have turned their guns on workers”.
Prominent human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama decried the long hours Zimbabweans have to work in side jobs due to low salaries.
“100 years after workers got 8-hour working days, now we are working over 16 hours a day to earn a living,” Muchadehama said.
A representative from Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Germany, encouraged Zimbabwean workers to be united.
ZCTU President Mutasa said that their May Day theme inspires workers to fight for their rights.
Our theme for this year is ‘We are at a crossroads arise and organise, do not mourn’. So we will continue to fight for our rights,” said Mutasa.