2 May 2014

Zimbabwe: Zim Workers Sing the Blues

THE saying much ado about nothing from a play by William Shakespeare is an apt description of this year's Workers' Day commemorations which ran under the theme "Workers Intensify the Struggle: Not to Labour Market Flexibility".

The largely token commemorations held by increasingly powerless and divided trade unions across the country have lost much of the lustre of yesteryear as the economy crumbles.

While Workers' Day is meant to celebrate the vital contribution the worker makes in developing the economy, the day now goes virtually unnoticed.

The economic decline the country has suffered since 2000 has seriously eroded the numbers and welfare of the worker. With capacity utilisation at less than 40% and a debilitating liquidity crunch, companies are finding the going tough.

A July 2013 National Social Security Authority (Nssa) Harare Regional Employer Closures and Registrations Report for the period July 2011 to July 2013 shows 711 companies in Harare closed down, rendering 8 336 individuals jobless.

The Retrenchment Board has within the first quarter of this year approved the shedding of at least 400 jobs.

Among the applicants under consideration are Chitungwiza City Council and mining concern Zimasco. Should the applications be approved a total of 1 755 will be thrown onto the streets adding to the more than 80% unemployed, leaving even fewer workers to answer the emasculated trade unions' call to "intensify the struggle".

This has also further reduced the government's limited tax base.

The theme chosen for this year's commemorations by the ZCTU echoes a new threat for harried workers: that of labour reform.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa recently confirmed cabinet had agreed to amend the Labour Act Chapter 28:01 to deal with constraints in retrenchments, terminal benefits, downsizing, working hours and the arbitral awards system. This would make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers.

In his Workers Day statement, Labour minister Nicholas Goche said the government is forging ahead with labour reforms in consultation with social partners, business and labour.

"In doing so government is mindful of the need to strike a balance between employers needs for support to operate while ensuring that workers are protected," Goche said.

The Employers' Confederation of Zimbabwe executive director, John Mufukare said: "From the business point of view there is absolutely nothing to celebrate. Things have never been as bad as they are now. It would be ludicrous to celebrate," Unemployment has reached record levels".

Workers and employers within the various National Employment Councils are deadlocked on this year's wages five months into the year.

Economist and labour expert Godfrey Kanyenze said: "In 1980 there were more than one million employed in the formal sector but now the figure is below 700 000."

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