The rating of Zimbabwe as one of the 10 worst countries in terms of workers’ welfare by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is a damning indictment of the parlous state of the economy.
It also brings into sharp focus the southern African nation’s human rights record.
According to the ITUC documentation of violations of workers’ rights, Zimbabwe joined a bleak list of controversial nations such as Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Colombia, Egypt, Honduras, Kazakhstan, the Philippines and Turkey.
“In the aftermath of the violent attacks against workers during the general strikes organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in October 2018 and January 2019, Zimbabwe continued its crackdown against trade unions,” the report said. “Twenty-eight ZCTU members still faced criminal charges after their arrest over a year ago. If convicted, they could be sentenced to a mandatory 10-year jail term. ZCTU president Peter Mutasa and general secretary Japhet Moyo, both of whom had been arrested and charged with subversion, were released in February 2019, but they remained under strict release conditions, banned from travel and forced to check in regularly at the police station.”
The report said Mutasa and Moyo received anonymous letters stuffed with live bullets and death threats.
ITUC condemned the abduction of the then president of Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, Peter Magombeyi in 2019 by three unidentified men.
Violation of workers’ rights has contributed to a long stand-off between the government and Western countries who are concerned over Harare’s trampling of human rights. The government has vehemently denied human rights abuses accusing the Western world of interference.
Consequently, this has derailed the government’s re-engagement efforts with the West which was one of the President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s main objectives on taking over the reins of power in 2017. The re-engagement is yet to yield results as sanctions by the United States and Europe remain. Efforts to join the Commonwealth are still to pay dividends.
The harsh working environment and poor salaries have worsened workers’ plight.
A questionable decision by the government to scrap the multi-currency regime and subsequent re-adoption of the local currency in June 2019 has plunged workers into abject poverty. Through Statutory Instrument 142, the local currency was re-introduced, but it resulted in the erosion of incomes and pensions.
Faced with a biting hyperinflationary environment, the multi-currency regime was re-introduced through the backdoor under the guise of mitigating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, the wages of most workers who are paid in local currency cannot match the prices of goods and services which are indexed against the US dollar. The stabilising of the exchange rate through the foreign currency auction market has not benefited workers earnings as the wages chase steep hikes in electricity, fuel and other tariffs.
This has led to demonstrations by health workers and school teachers which have severely disrupted service delivery.
ZCTU has been demanding foreign currency denominated salaries.
The rating of the country as one of the worst working environments is justified according to labour market analyst John Mufukare.
“When you are working you must get a decent wage which takes care of both your current and future requirements. The working conditions must enable you to also have a decent lifestyle after retirement. This is not the case for most workers in Zimbabwe so we can definitely say we are in the bottom 10,” he said.
Mufukare said retirement in Zimbabwe was a death sentence.
“Nssa (National Social Security Authority) is giving me as a pensioner ZW$1 000 (US$12,35) monthly, but my medical aid provider is demanding ZW$8 600 (US$106,17) monthly while my funeral assurer is demanding ZW$2 500(US$30,86) a month. That means most pensioners face the prospect of a pauper’s burial,” he said. “It is no wonder why there is so much corruption in Zimbabwe. If you know you are facing a bleak future, you are tempted to make hay while the sun still shines.”
The hike in medical aid and funeral subscriptions has forced most workers to either downgrade or abandon such insurance policies.
Economic analyst Godfrey Kanyenze said inflation and the impact of Covid-19 have worsened the standard of living for the ordinary worker in Zimbabwe.
“Although inflation has dropped from more than 800% to about 400%, it is still a triple digit affair and is still very high which makes it difficult for the worker,” Kanyenze said.
He said the failure by the government to provide personal protective clothing for frontline health workers and teachers has caused a crisis.
The former business executive added that the unavailability of sufficient data on how Covid-19 has affected different areas in the country has resulted in a blanket national lockdown that has dire implications for workers.