Workers’ Day loses its lustre

Tendai Chara —
Despite the harsh economic climate that has seen the worker base dwindling, Zimbabwean workers will tomorrow join billions of other workers dotted across the globe in celebrating the International Workers’ Day, also known in other countries as Labour Day or May Day.

Each year, the first day of May is set aside to commemorate workers’ struggle for better working conditions. It is a time during which workers from across the globe reflect on issues that affects them. A national public holiday, Workers’ Day is promoted by the international labour movement.

The commemorations come at a time when the country is facing severe economic hardships which are a result of the illegal sanctions imposed on the country by the West. Over the years, thousands of workers have been driven out of formal employment following company closures.

In desperate cost-cutting measures, companies either closed, retrenched or froze new recruitments. The economic climate has had adverse effects on job creation.

Sadly, there has been a marked increase in the number of workers shunning May Day commemorations. In the past, the majority of workers used to converge at centres throughout the country to commemorate this day.

During the commemorations, reflections and deliberations were made on issues affecting the worker. Wages, bonuses and working conditions were some of the important labour topics that were deliberated upon.

Workers’ Day has since lost its lustre as most workers are now electing to stay away from the commemorations. Experts in the labour sector attribute the lack of workers’ interest to a number of reasons, chief among them the involvement of workers’ representatives in politics.

The majority of workers no longer have confidence in workers’ union leaders, who are often accused of being selfish since they use the workers to achieve their own individual political gains.

Retrenchments and poor salaries are some of the major challenges that the workers are facing. The retrenchments threaten to derail Government’s Zim-Asset target of creating two million jobs. Employees often go for months without salaries.

The country’s major workers’ representatives – the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU) and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) dabbles in politics, abandoning the plight of the worker in the process.

Government, on the other hand, has stood by workers. Through the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social welfare, Government has also amended the Labour Act after companies were sacking employees willy-nilly without any form of terminal benefits.

Companies intending to retrench employees should first get approval from Government. They are also required to submit wage bills, highlighting how much will be saved by the proposed retrenchment and the board of directors’ fees structure and allowances, among other requirements.

Companies are required to submit, in detail, the measures that would have been undertaken by management and workers to avoid retrenchments. Tripartite Negotiating Forums that brought together Government, employers and employees have greatly benefitted the workers.

Government has often abided by the founding principles of the Kadoma Declaration which encourages social dialogue in the labour market. Government is also continuously working on the process of making further labour reforms to improve working conditions.

Mr Kenias Shamuyarira, the ZFTU secretary-general, said the workers’ union’s sole mandate is to represent workers.

“Unlike some of the unions that rent crowds on Workers’ Day, the ZFTU is not a populist trade union. We are going to be addressing real workers. I will address 22 000 sugarcane workers in Chiredzi, my colleague will address 5 000 tea workers in Chipinge. In Gwanda, we are looking at a crowd of not less 6 000 mine workers,” Mr Shamuyarira.

Mr Shamuyarira dismissed allegations of the union’s political affiliations.

“I have said this and I will always say it. We are not a Zanu-PF affiliate. Instead, we are allies with the ruling party. We share the same socialist beliefs. We are self-funded and therefore not accountable to anyone,” Mr Shamuyarira said.

He added that although ZFTU is an ally of the ruling party, there are areas in which the two parties see things differently.

“There is this animal they call Ease of Doing Business. We are against this since it allows workers to be fired willy-nilly. We are also not happy with the way workers were retrenched at Chiadzwa,” Mr Shamuyarira said.

The ZFTU is running this year’s commemorations under the theme “Workers Rise Up and Demand Your Space Against Black and White Capital Monopoly.”

The ZFTU is optimistic that workers will attend the May Day commemorations in droves.

“We speak bread-and-butter issues. Workers know that we mean business. We call a spade, a spade,” concluded Mr Shamuyarira.

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