The Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) has pulled out of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) citing partisan politics within the biggest labour umbrella body.
With a total membership of over 40 000, the pull out of Zimta comes as a major blow to the ZCTU, currently struggling to raise meaningful union dues from its 32 affiliate unions.
The ZCTU has over the years been seen as an extension of the MDC, having birthed the country’s biggest opposition political party in 1999, with the then secretary-general, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, leaving his post to take up leadership of what was to be the fiercest opposition to Zanu PF led by former President Robert Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980.
And recently, in the run-up to the July 2018 elections, the labour body, in particular, its current president Peter Mutasa openly declared the labour body’s allegiance to the MDC Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa.
This led to serious fissures in the trade union body’s general council, which is the highest decision-making body outside congress, with several affiliate unions, who had advocated for a non-partisan approach, threatening to pull out of the labour body.
And the recent decision by Zimta, the biggest teacher representative union in the country, could be the beginning of an exodus of disgruntled affiliate unions, threatening the existence of the once powerful labour federation.
Zimta secretary-general, Tapson Sibanda, confirmed the development, noting the decision has, however, not been officially communicated to the ZCTU.
“The Zimta national executive felt its continued affiliation to the ZCTU violates the Zimta’s principle and constitutional provision of political non-partisanship. This position was taken after it became clear that ZCTU dabbles in opposition party politics,” he said.
Sibanda said Zimta structures had diverse membership who subscribed to various political parties and, therefore, could not affiliate to a labour centre that openly supported a particular political party.
He said the association had not yet identified an non-partisan labour centre, hence, did not foresee itself joining any other centre other than pursuing its own issues through the National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC) via the Apex Council.
“The NJNC is the only route that civil servants can channel their grievances and be heard and that is through the Apex Council. I can neither confirm nor deny that some members of the ApexCouncil might be partisan, but it is a case of personalities rather than the institution itself,” he said.
Sibanda said the Apex Council was unavoidable for civil servants as agreements with the government for the betterment of their conditions of service were only signed at the NJNC via the Apex Council.
“The ZCTU could only be used for lobbying with other international bodies like the ILO, but the process would require unions to come back and sign bargaining agreements with the government at NJNC,” he said.
“So the Apex Council cannot be wished away if any teachers’ union would like to meaningfully represent its members.”
ZCTU secretary-general, Japhet Moyo was not immediately available for comment.