Last year, at least 59 workers were killed at their workplaces and 5 360 were injured. This translates to 15 workplace injuries per day and at least one death per week, on average.
Again, it’s another edition of Workers’ Day tomorrow; that unique moment of the year dedicated for the celebration of workers and working classes.
Such a day has been coming and going, year in year out, without much to show for the worker who is said to be the most important resource of any organisation.
The Food Poverty Atlas recently released by Zimstats shows that there is still a substantial prevalence of food poverty across the country.
The prevalence is as high as 43 percent in Matabeleland North, 18 percent in Masvingo, and ranges between 21,2 percent and 28,2 percent in other provinces outside Harare.
In districts such as Nkayi, it is an alarming 72 percent.
If people cannot afford to have adequate food to eat, and surviving below the stipulated 2,100 calories per day, we really can’t celebrate that there is high employment in Zimbabwe.
Ma-figure haadyiwe, at the end of the day.
If only 10,7 percent of the population is unemployed, then why is it that the food poverty is as absurd as this?
If a worker can’t afford food, which is a basic right enshrined in section 77 of the country’s constitution, then what else can they afford to lead quality lives?
Well I don’t really want to dispute official statistics on unemployment, as they are apparently correct in terms of the methodology employed and the definitions upheld.
The definition of employment used in calculating employment tends to be generous to the informal sector where it counts vese vari kukiya kiya as so very employed.
That is why the same official statistics say 95 percent of workers are employed in the informal sector, with the formal sector employing the paltry remainder.
Our economy has been going informal and even the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority’s tax patterns can attest to that. Last year, for example, Zimra’s company tax revenue head missed its target by 7 percent and its contribution to total revenue declined from 12 percent in 2015 in to 10 percent last year.
Since the majority of corporate tax is paid by formal companies, it means that this enclave is shrinking.
If that is not convincing, then we can also look at the individual tax revenue head which missed its target by 8 percent, to only collect $736,5 million.
Zimra attributed that poor performance to company closures and retrenchments.
Those retrenched go and set up their little informal establishments at their backyards or by the roadsides. If they prosper, they employ a few people to help with the work.
This new economic setup, characterised by high informalisation, has also incarnated some ogres which are now threatening to destroy and wipe out the decent work agenda, as shall be discussed later.
You see folks, Sustainable Development Goal 8 calls for “full and productive employment and decent work for all”.
This is in harmony with our constitution which says, in S24(1), the State must endeavour to “provide everyone with an opportunity to work in a freely chosen activity in order to secure a decent living for themselves and their families”.
You need decent work to secure a decent living.
And this is where the Zimstats’ definition of employment is found wanting since much of the jobs it counts as employment in the informal sector do not pass the decent test.
Folks, decent work pretty much sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives.
It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families.
It is also about better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.
This is not something borrowed.
It is also treasured in S65 of our Constitution which gives every person the right to fair and safe labour practices and standards and to be paid a fair and reasonable wage.
The same section also says that every employee is entitled to just, equitable and satisfactory conditions of work.
Do our informal sector establishments, anaMuseyamwa, tick all these boxes?
Let’s take safety issues as an example.
The number of workplace deaths and injuries that we continue to experience in the country are really not acceptable.
Last year, at least 59 workers were killed at their workplaces and 5 360 were injured.
This translates to 15 workplace injuries per day and at least one death per week, on average.
As you can see, safety issues of the day are far much more critical than the Haymarket Massacre itself which triggered the birth of Workers’ Day.
About 15 people were killed at the Haymarket workers’ demonstrations.
Yet we still have thousands who die every year and millions who are injured at workplaces, worldwide, because of poor safety and health systems.
We seem not to care about this phenomena; maybe the worst part of capitalism has gotten into us. How many times have you seen construction workers working while wearing sandals?
And for artisanal gold miners, much as they bring in the much needed forex;who is paying serious attention to their safety — how they are exposed to mercury and how they can be easily trapped underground and die?
This is however not to imply that accidents and deaths only occur at informal workplaces.
They do happen at formal workplaces too, but these normally have safety and health policies and infrastructure in place, as opposed to establishments in the informal sector.
Our labour market conditions have deteriorated too.
In its 2016 revenue performance report, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority highlighted that there has been salary cuts, with most companies reviewing their remuneration packages downwards.
The falling incomes and job losses left workers vulnerable and can agree to work for breadcrumbs.
Some employers take advantage of workers’ desperation to go for months without paying them, or pay in dribs and drabs. “Hapana kwaanoenda, mabasa ari kushupa”, they boast.
The oversupply of labour against very little demand, has also resulted in the emergence of bogus agents who are defrauding gullible job seekers money for non-existent positions.
They normally create fake job adverts and then ask respondents to deposit money to process their applications, or to cater for training costs.
They will then disappear into the blues upon receipt of your money.
Government should therefore continue to ensure that the growth of the economy occurs with more opportunities for job creation and also fight to eliminate the effects of unemployment especially among the youths.
Section 14(2) of the Constitution requires that “at all times the State… must ensure that appropriate and adequate measures are undertaken to create employment for all Zimbabweans, especially women and youths”.
At all times Mr Government man, not sometimes!
The Tripartite Negotiating Forum which has been in existence for many years now remains unlegislated, which means that decisions made from such social interactions may not be legally binding.
And the Tripartite Negotiating Forum Bill earmarked at establishing a social contract amongst government, labour and employers and to ensure that social dialogue takes place within concrete legal parameters has not yet been brought to Parliament since 2013.
Those spearheading its crafting are now targeting that the Bill will be tabled in Parliament in the third quarter of the year; which is soon anyway?
Folks, as we close and ride back, yes we can come up with countless convincing reasons to blame everyone else as the author of the worker’s misery, but the worker must also pull up their socks and ensure that they work for every dollar they earn and to stay alert to issues of safety.
VaMtukudzi vakaimba wani vakati, “Mushandi ngwara dzivirira, basa rine ngozi”.