The master of ceremony, invited guests, President and General Secretaries of affiliate Unions, fellow workers of Zimbabwe, Ladies and Gentlemen. Before I go into my speech, may l kindly ask that we observe a minute of silence to remember our fellow countrymen and countrywomen who lost their lives due to cyclone IDAI.
As our tradition, we are gathered again today to commemorate Workers Day joining millions of workers throughout the world who are also saluting this important day in the history of the working class.
It is unfortunate that we have gathered whilst the labour movement and the generality of the workers in Zimbabwe are faced with a multitude of economic, social and political problems.
Whilst some have accepted these problems as part of our lives it is one of our greatest challenges to find alternative solutions to these problems, which are haunting our lives day in day out.
Today, we are celebrating May Day under the theme “We Are At A Crossroads! Unite, Fight Neoliberalism and Austerity” and it is in the true spirit of honest trade union activism that our demands will be realised. Our theme is almost the same as that of last year, but the difference is that now we are faced with serious neoliberalism policies that threatens the existence of workers as well as trade unions. These are hurting both rural and urban dwellers including, subsistence and smallholder farmers, students, the unemployed, orphans, pensioners, informal sector workers and people with disabilities. Except for the few elites and those connected to them, every ordinary citizen is suffering.
Neoliberalism is represented by the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). ESAP is a neo-liberal market-driven policy measure adopted in Zimbabwe as a prescriptive solution to the economic crisis of the 1980s. It was introduced in Zimbabwe in October 1990, but started in March 1991 after a meeting with aid agencies and the World Bank in Paris. Our government has now introduced it again through the backdoor.
ESAP is an economic reform strategy of both World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They have a great influence on how the economies should be run. ESAP entails
- Reduction of expenditure through retrenchments both in government and private sector
- Withdrawal of subsidies on basic essential goods and services such as education and commodities such as mealie-meal
- Privatization of state owned companies
- Introduction of user fees in hospitals and schools
The proponents of ESAP claim that the reforms will usher in modernization, growth and employment. But our experiences from the previous ESAP was disastrous. It left the health, education, industry and agriculture sectors on their knees. Thousands of people lost their jobs. This is what our government has decided to go back to. You hear the Finance Ministers talk about Labour Market Flexibility as well as “Austerity for prosperity’. It is ESAP with a different name.
It all started with the then Minister of Finance, Patrick Chinamasa when he presented the 2014 National budget to Parliament whose main theme was advocating for labour market flexibility and linking wages to productivity. The Minister acted on the erroneous the view that the Labour laws of this country are skewed in favour of employees without taking cognisance of productivity and the capacity of companies to pay. The fact however is that through various amendments to the Labour Act and neoliberal informed judicial activism, Zimbabwean workers lost much of the legislative protection we used to enjoy soon after independence.
The country is slowly unilaterally being introduced to labour market flexibility, another form of ESAP. Labour flexibility creates precarious work and is associated with:
- Poor or low wages for the labourers,
- Poor protection from termination of employment,
- Lack of access to social protection and benefits usually associated with full-time standard employment,
- Lack of or limited access of workers to exercise their rights at work.
- Destroying collective bargaining and its institutions etc. It is a modern or 21st form of slavery.
ESAP takes people back to the Master and Servant era as the employer determines the pace at the expense of a weak employee who compromises rights to get a job that is indecent
It is such liberalism that has seen the influx of the Chinese investments that have seriously caused not only environmental degradation, but introduced slavery at the workplace. It is in this vein that we call upon the government to reconsider some of these Chinese investments. We say NO to Chinese investments that lead to poor conditions of services, harassment and abuse of workers. Chinese investors, just like other investors, need to adhere to our rules and those not doing so must be given a marching order.
We have seen last year the government announcing neoliberal fiscal and monetary policies that worsened the plight of workers and Zimbabweans in general. The new measures, instead of solving the economic crisis that the country faces, increased taxation and failed to find solutions to the cash crisis and high price of goods and services amongst a host of issues affecting workers and the general public. Among the measures is the two percent tax on every dollar on all electronic transactions which has a direct effect of overburdening the already overtaxed and underpaid workers.
We also note with great concern the shocking massive price hikes that have affected almost every basic commodity, worsening the plight of the already struggling masses of Zimbabwe.
Prices of most products have gone up by over 300 percent in the last few months and the prices continue to rise at break-neck speed and this has seriously eroded the incomes of ordinary workers who are finding it hard to survive on their meager wages. Labour notes that most workers earn an average of RTGS$300 a month and therefore cannot afford to buy the goods in most shops. When we tried to protest, we were beaten and thrown in jails for demanding that prices be reduced.
The deteriorating and unstable macro-economic environment has had a serious impact on the worker and their quest for decent work. Significantly, annual inflation, which had slumped into a deflation at -0.2% in 2014 was 56.9% in January 2019 and we understand it is now over 60%, driven by high prices of basic goods. The inflationary fires were stalked further by the 150% increase in fuel prices.
The social costs of the policy measures have had serious impact on the ordinary working people. The acceptance that the RTGS and US dollars are not at par (1:1) is a tacit acknowledgement of the devaluation of the RTGS dollar that applies to most ordinary Zimbabweans. Workers’ earnings have therefore been devalued relentlessly through the depreciating exchange rate and inflation, especially after September 2018. There is no doubt that workers are being required to pay for the austerity measures. We say no to austerity measures that are only targeted at workers and the poor citizens.
What has killed this country is crony capitalism. Crony Capitalism is an economy in which businesses thrive not as a result of risk, but rather as a return on money amassed through an unholy alliance between a business class and the powerful political class. There are no incentives for productive economic activities. The collusion between cronies in government and those in business makes them focus on rent seeking, regulatory capture and destruction of democratic public engagement frameworks. All the Constitutional constraints and participatory provisions are deliberately ignored as the economic and political power holders aggressively accumulate wealth at the expense of the poor majority who are excluded. The granting of contracts, strategic government appointments and business regulations are largely applied taking due regard to the existing relationship (either friendship or political affiliation). They use the coercive power of the State through repression to sustain their hold on natural resources. This is why we are brutalized, jailed and even killed when we complain about economic hardships. We should be worry of propaganda where the government blames business for increased prices yet there are in this together. They are bosom buddies and what is happening on the market is not by coincidence. That is the basis of the Zimbabwe is Open for Business mantra. It is about creating an economy that works for them and not us. It is about austerity for their prosperity and our misery.
They have gone to the extent of even lying on important information like the rate of unemployment, inflation figures and so forth. We need to guard ourselves against such people.
As I said before, rising inflation and prices have had a devastating impact on ordinary citizens. Incomes for those luckily enough to be in work or to have a pension have been massively eroded, condemning many into abject poverty. Their predicament is worsened by the fact that most people do not have access to foreign exchange while service providers are demanding payment in hard currency. All of this leaves most people unable to pay for critical services, be it education, housing, healthcare or transport.
III. MINIMUM WAGE
In line with the escalating prices of basic commodities and services, it is the duty of the government to cushion workers and protect the vulnerable. The ZCTU General Council met in Harare on 23 March 2019 to consider the issue of national minimum wage as the only way to help the suffering workers. After getting reports from all affiliates and economic experts, the ZCTU General Council set the national minimum wage of US$600-00. In coming up with the figure, the General Council took into account the Poverty Datum line which stands at US$600.
IV. CLAMP DOWN ON TRADE UNIONS, CIVIC AND OPPOSITION LEADERS
It would be amiss for me not to express our concern and alarm at the continued clamp down and arbitrary arrest of civic leaders and opposition Members of Parliament in the aftermath of October 11, 2018 demonstrations and of the14-16 January 2019 stayaway called by labour to protest escalating prices. Most of those arrested are facing charges of plotting to overthrow the government. The ZCTU is worried that this ‘New Dispensation” is aggressively competing to beat the disgraceful record set by the dangerous and notorious racist Rhodesian regime of Ian Smith. It has become too paranoid that it is even afraid of its own shadows. Even under Mugabe’s 37 years rule, very few leaders were arrested for treason. This government has set its own record!
We strongly condemn the state action that is contrary to the Constitution of Zimbabwe that guarantees freedom of expression. The ZCTU demands an environment conducive for freedom of expression and where every Zimbabwean can discharge his or her duties without fear of being arrested. We also demand that the government addresses issues that led to the 14 January 2019 Stayaway. As for us, we remain committed to fight for the rights to freedom of assembly, expression as well as fight against poverty under whatever circumstances and conditions..
The ZCTU condemns the appalling xenophobic attacks directed against foreigners living and working in South Africa by some locals of that country. The attacks though a symptom of economic malaise and lack of job creation by South African authorities should not be tolerated. The ZCTU kindly calls upon the South African government to put in place practical policies that safeguard migrants and bring a lasting solution to the ever resurfacing xenophobic attacks.
The ZCTU is worried by claims by the malcontents that migrants deal in drugs and prostitution as justification for the attacks. It is the work of the police to root out criminals not for people to take the law into their hands. The ZCTU is of the firm belief that these are just flimsy justifications by criminals with deep hatred for foreigners and are now making it an annual festival to torture and butcher foreign nationals.
While xenophobic attacks happen elsewhere the magnitude and frequency that it has taken is worrisome. However, the South African government also needs support from other countries to overcome these challenges. Such attacks will regress the continental strides that have been achieved on migrants. Migrants need to be treated with dignity wherever they are and African leaders also need to speak up against such inhuman conduct to forestall genocide.
VI. SOCIAL DIALOGUE
Finally, In light of the economic challenges affecting the nation, ZCTU firmly believes that social dialogue is the only solution and we are imploring upon government to urgently convene a Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) meeting to discuss challenges faced by the nation.
If national ownership engendered through stakeholder participation is a critical success factor and key lesson from past experience, then what is unfolding in Zimbabwe under the new dispensation is most worrying. How do we expect to succeed when programmes are being rolled out without stakeholder participation? How can Cabinet approve a ‘Macro-economic and Fiscal Stabilization Programme’ without stakeholder participation and ownership? As ZCTU, we demand that the Government of Zimbabwe institute comprehensive public engagement mechanisms as the basis for moving forward and addressing the myriad of challenges bedeviling the economy. We must negotiate a new Social Contract as the basis for recovery and inclusive, broad-based growth and human development. An institutional framework to promote such public engagement, the TNF, is already in place and we have the Kadoma Declaration as the reference point. However, if the Government continues to ignore the pleas of the suffering workers and citizens, the ZCTU will be left with no option than to mobilize workers for peaceful pickets , demonstrations, general strikes and other such actions provided for in the Constitution of Zimbabwe and our Labour Laws.
Comrades this year we are demanding the following;
1. Affordable basic commodities
2. Poverty Datum Line related wages and salaries (minimum of US$600)
3. A stop to arbitral arrests and torture of trade union activists.
4. Respect of the rule of law
5. Resuscitation of the economy
6. Alignment of labour laws
7. Legislation of TNF
8. We demand salaries in US$ not in RTGS Bonds!
9. Free testing and treatment of breast cancer
10. Free treatment of cervical cancer, and screening
11. Free treatment of prostate cancer and chronic diseases
12. Stop Wage theft
13. No to politicization of state donated aid to national disaster victims
14. Stop Sexual Harassment
15. Prices must fall NOW
16. No to police intervention on labour matters
17. 2% transaction tax must go
18. Decent employment
19. Protection of fixed term contracts, casual workers and NO labour broking
20. No to Labour Market Flexibility.
21. No to productivity linked wages.
22. We demand a living pension and protecting pension values (demand transparency on Pension funds either NSSA and Private)
23. Expedition of labour law reforms
24. Demand free sanitary pads
25. End Corruption
26. Accountability on the use of tax revenue
27. No to Special economic Zones
28. No to victimization of Trade Union activists and workers Committees at the workplace
Last but not least let us all remember that as a united force we shall overcome some day.
May God bless the toiling workers of Zimbabwe
Shinga Mushandi Shinga!!! Qina Msebenzi Qina!!!
Proud to be ZCTU