Once again, Zimbabwean workers join the rest of the world in commemorating Workers Day on May 1.
The history of Workers Day, or May Day in some circles, dates from May 1, 1886, when more than 300 000 workers in 13 000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history.
They were demanding an eight-hour working day.Workers Day is now an annual holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers worldwide.
In Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has been commemorating the day every year.
This year, the main event will be at Dzivaresekwa Stadium, Harare, under the theme “Fighting Unemployment, Poverty and Inequalities”.This theme reflects the current industrial relations in Zimbabwe.There is uncertainty in several sectors.
Workers have had to contend with non-payment of wages, constant threats of termination of contracts and low salaries, among a litany of previously enjoyed benefits being eroded by employers.
It looks like workers have been thrown back to the 19th Century where the relationship between a worker and an employer was that of master and servant.
A recent study by the ZCTU’s research think-tank, the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (Ledriz), concluded that thousands of workers in Zimbabwe are working without getting salaries.
The study indicated that at least 120 000 workers across the country worked without pay between 2015 and 2016.
The research, titled “Working-without-Pay-Wage-Theft-in-Zimbabwe”, noted that local authorities and parastatals are the major perpetrators with the highest number of employees who worked for nothing for an average period of nine months, but their executives lived lavishly, earning thousands in allowances and benefits.
Some 22 778 workers in 20 urban local authorities had not received their salaries.
Over 12 000 workers in the agricultural sector were not being paid, while 7 500 security sector employees and a further 7 500 in the automotive industry were also not paid.
About 7 500 workers had gone for 14 months without pay at the State-controlled National Railways of Zimbabwe, 4 600 in the clothing sector, 3 720 in medical and pharmaceutical companies and 1 800 in the energy sector.
Vulnerable farm workers were among the worst affected, with hundreds of them at Arda Estates going for over six months without receiving salaries.
What is happening in industry has had a devastating effect on society and has affected pensioners, students, and even rural folk.
Over the last few years, we have also seen some retrogressive judgments coming from courts and compounding the plight of workers. The Chidyausiku ruling of July 17, 2015 continues to haunt thousands of workers while other courts continue to churn out negative judgments despite amendments to the Labour Act aimed at curtailing the carnage and awarding compensation for job losses. Recently, the High Court ruled that workers fired on three months’ notice cannot be compensated despite an amendment that provides for companies to compensate for loss of employment in retrospect.
High Court Judge Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo ruled that Section 18 deprives employers’ the right to terminate contracts of workers on notice, making it unconstitutional.
The section had the effect of declaring all terminations that occurred after the Chidyausiku judgment illegal, unless a minimum retrenchment package was paid by the employer. In addition, the ZCTU is disappointed with the current process of Labour Law Reform, which has been moving forwards and backwards.
The reform started as far back as 2009, and even the International Labour Organisation Commission of Inquiry also made recommendations to “improve Zimbabwe’s Labour Law Reform”.
Since 2010, parties have been engaging in discussions, but it seems when we move one step forward, we also move two steps backwards. In 2010, the Tripartite Negotiating Forum Technical Committee was mandated to negotiate the reform and the process culminated in the adoption of 13 Principles in 2014.
However, the agreed principles did not see the light of day following the July 17 Supreme Court ruling that allowed employers to dismiss workers on three months notice in the famous case of Don Nyamande and Kingstone Donga vs Zuva Petroleum.
A new Labour Amendment Act was hastily put in place, with a few provisions like paying retrenched workers in retrospective.
The tripartite partners then met to discuss new principles.
We need reformed labour legislation that complies with the new Constitution, which recognises the rights of workers and civil liberties.
There is also need to comply with international labour law standards and to strengthen protection of workers from the economic evils of capitalists and neo-liberals. Government needs to do more in the areas of job-creation, social protection and respecting Labour Rights