30 April 2017

Zimbabwe: No Cheer for Zim Workers On May Day

The statistics paint a gloomy picture: a total of 816 employees have been retrenched and five companies applied for liquidation and another for judicial management in the first quarter of 2017, according to the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz).

Meanwhile, statistics from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) show that 1 302 serious injuries and nine fatalities were recorded at workplaces in the first quarter of 2017. The figure was, however, lower than the 1 357 which was recorded in the same period last year. These are nonetheless frightening statistics that make tomorrow's Workers' Day commemorations nothing much to celebrate for Zimbabwean workers, who have been struggling to make ends meet amid massive shortages of money and huge job losses.

ZCTU president Peter Mutasa said workers were facing difficulties as most companies were struggling to pay salaries while many others have closed, throwing workers onto the streets.

"Many workers have gone for periods ranging between three and over 24 months without getting salaries, or part thereof. As a result, workers are living in squalid conditions and some share single rooms with their grown-up children. Some workers are walking long distances to work and many children are dropping out of school and colleges because their parents are not getting their salaries," Mutasa said.

"The majority of those still earning salaries are getting far below the poverty datum line, making their situation extremely difficult as well. In addition, the lack of job security through legal protection has destroyed collective bargaining and also increased incidences of unfair labour practices by employers."

He said the situation was compounded by "persistent attacks on unions and union officials over the past two decades". Mutasa said the July 17 2015 Supreme Court ruling saw employers unilaterally varying conditions of services.

The Supreme Court ruled that employers could terminate the contracts of their employees on three months' notice. It triggered a wave of job losses, with unionists estimating that over 20 000 employees were retrenched.

Emcoz president Josephat Kahwema said the commercial sector recorded the highest number of retrenched employees, with 243, while parastatals had 202 employees in the first quarter of 2017.

He said the sectors with the next highest numbers of retrenched employees were mining, with 85 retrenched and tourism, with 79.

"Businesses need to be more competitive on the regional level to be able to bring in more foreign currency. To do this, we need a conducive environment to operate in. Government determines the rules within which we operate through appropriate policy formulation accompanied by correct implementation", Kahwema said.

Mutasa said the outlook was gloomy with elections coming next year.

"Our prediction is that the future looks gloomy until there is genuine political will to turn around the country, which will currently is non-existent," he said.

Commenting on occupational health and safety, Kahwema said the increase in the number of work-related injuries was worrying. He urged companies to work on reducing the injury rate to below 1%.

According to official statistics, occupational health and safety stood at 3.22% as at 2016.

"The safety of workers is of paramount importance to employers and to achieving business sustainability. As employers, we are working with government to address this through the Zimbabwe Occupational Safety and Health Committee," he said.

Mutasa said the economy was in a vicious cycle where workers were earning too little to stimulate economic growth.

"Because of political risk factors, industry is failing to access cheap loans for retooling, hence most of our companies are using obsolete 19th or early 20th century machinery. It's a pity that despite results from their own surveys, our industrialists always bark up the wrong tree, blaming imaginary high labour costs for industry's problems. This has over the years distracted attention from the real policy problems," he said.

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