1 May 2022
FLORENCE MUCHA TARUVINGA’S
MAY DAY MESSAGE TO THE WORKERS OF ZIMBABWE
THEME; ‘Restoration of Workers’ Dignity’
1 MAY 2022
Workers of Zimbabwe, comrades and friends let me start by thanking the Lord for affording us the opportunity to physically meet again after a two-year sabbatical owing to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. It has been a difficult time and we need to continue to observe the regulations for us to be able to meet as always.
As we meet for the 2022 Workers Day, the ZCTU is fully cognizant of the challenges affecting workers and the generality of Zimbabweans. We are living in very difficult economic times to the extent that we have been robbed of the ‘daily bread’ and decent work.
Comrades and friends it is not a secret that our living and working conditions have deteriorated to alarming levels from 2016. The cost of living has skyrocketed and wages have become worthless to say the least. The economy has self-dollarized but wages have remained denominated in the ‘undesired’ RTGS. According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) the cost of living for an average family of six for the month of March 2022 stood at ZWL $92 192.89 and it is not a secret that the bulk of workers in Zimbabwe earn less than half of that figure while at the same time, are expected to survive. The economy has pauperized us and it appears that there is no respite. The manner in which fuel and energy prices have been on an upsurge spells doom to everyone because they have a ripple effect on the pricing of goods and services across the economy.
As I stand before you the price of bread has shot to above USD2-00. That is unaffordable and unacceptable. Without the ‘daily bread’ what are we expected to eat? Cake? Biscuits? How can we be a workforce that does not afford bread? The blunt truth is that we are under siege. We are under siege from grand wage theft. The grandiose of the wage theft is being perpetrated in all manner and form. Non-payment of wages, late payment of wages and meager wages form the crux of our socio-economic problems and lack of decent work. The perpetrators are all employers from the public and private sector, trade unions themselves and even at individual level in the informal and domestic sectors. How much and how are we paying our maids, herdboys and gardeners? It is disheartening to announce that we still have workers earning as little as ZWL8500-00 in government owned entities and employers are content with that. This is all happening in disregard of ILO Convention, 1949 (No.95) on the Protection of Wages, which states that “wages shall be paid in legal tender at regular intervals; in cases where partial payment of wages is in kind, the value of such allowances should be fair and reasonable. Workers shall be free to dispose of their wages as they choose. In cases of insolvency, wages shall enjoy a priority in the distribution of liquidated assets”
Indeed, wage theft has crippled us and it has been compounded by covid-19. Serious decent work violations and deficits have been observed in the past two years as employers took advantage of the Covid-19 restrictions to constrict workers’ rights and vary decent work standards. Ample examples are in the Chinese owned companies and private security companies where workers were basically enslaved and continue to be denied basic rights in the name of covid-19.
Our problems as workers are not only confined to the workplace. Transport woes are costing the Zimbabwe travelling public including workers. Workers are spending hours in queues waiting for ZUPCO buses. While we appreciate government efforts to import more ZUPCO buses, the fleet is not enough to timely service the travelling public. It is high time that government allows private transporters to operate to ease transport challenges while improving the urban transport system.
The health and education sectors are also in dire straits and basic health is not affordable to many. Our hospitals are mere shells, there are no adequate medicines while school going children are learning three days a week in public schools. We call upon the government to prioritise its expenditures to create fiscal space and free-up resources to support the critical health and education sectors as well as infrastructure, water and energy requirements. Our hospitals and clinics are now pale shadows of their former selves. The workers, our doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are flocking out of the country looking for greener pastures. The education sector is equally affected with teachers demotivated. Their call for the USD540-00 salary per month has been ignored and instead they are being victimized. Thousands of teachers have been slapped with suspensions and had their salaries suspended for demanding a living wage. Our government is adamant on pursuing austerity policies and has chosen to pay a deaf ear to the plight of its employees.
The informal economy has not been spared of the abuses. Municipal authorities are engaged in running battles with informal traders on a daily basis. Informal traders’ stalls are being destroyed, wares confiscated and the traders arrested. All this is done in the absence of meaningful alternatives for informal traders to trade undisturbed in spaces that are worker friendly. Generally working conditions have deteriorated for most workers in Zimbabwe but we are glad that the Tripartite Negotiation Forum (TNF) is now operationalizing and would tackle some of these challenges at national level.
Our pensioners are suffering; their earnings are not enough with the meagre savings continuing to be eroded. The present neo-liberal policies have eroded people’s savings and virtually all pension schemes have become moribund. Poverty levels continue to rise with more than 34% in extreme poverty while 70% live in poverty.
As workers let us remain united and focused on our class interests. We have no other option other than organizing, mobilizing to fight inequalities and demanding for socio-economic changes. The challenges that we are facing now as a labour movement require a united front, everyone must be on board, the students, farmers, communities the formal and informal. Our common enemy is capitalism, embedded in cartels and corruption.
While we appreciate that our struggle is for the stomach, we do politics of the stomach fighting for bread and butter issues we cannot totally divorce our voice from the mainstream politics. Our politics of the stomach are shaped and determined by national politics and as we approach the 2023 watershed elections we are urging workers to register to vote and contest for political power in their various political parties. The act of exercising that civic obligation and by partaking in this civic right, workers will chart their future direction and fate. In the labour movement we have a slogan - ‘Nothing for us without us’ – so if we do not partake in political processes no one will further our agenda. It is our plea to all contesting political parties for tolerance and peaceful campaigns. We all know and have experienced the cost of violent election campaigns and would not want to travel that road again. We pray for tolerance while we demand conditions for a free, fair and credible election.
Our theme for this year’s Workers Day; ‘RESTORATION OF WORKERS’ DIGNITY’ can only be achieved if we follow through the tracks of our predecessors. Let us draw critical lessons from the sacrifice of the Haymarket protestors who secured us the 8-hour working day through their blood and the foundation for this May Day commemorations. That is what our own labour movement stalwarts like Benjamin Burombo, Masotscha Ndhlovu, Joshua Nkomo, Morgan Tsvangirai and many others who charted the path to working class freedom, emancipation and dignity.
As we reflect on our struggles we have the following demands for 2022:
1. INCOMES; Tax relief measures
That government reviews downwards pay as you earn tax bands.
Exempt all workers earning below the PDL or monthly bread basket from paying tax.
Tax exemptions on retrenchment and retirement packages
2. SOCIAL PROTECTION - Enhance social protection support to vulnerable groups. Government should subsidise essential products and services such as fuel, bread, mealie-meal and electricity to arrest inflation.
3. JOBS: As jobs are being destroyed, full employment must be the goal, with decent work for all; healthy and safe conditions; formalisation of informal work; and an end to precarious work.
4. SOCIAL DIALOGUE: Promote dialogue at all levels and pin all decisions on meaningful consultations and consensus among social partners
5. CORRUPTION: deal decisively with corruption in the public and private sectors.
Let me conclude by saying that above everything, our woes can only be addressed by the payment a living wage in USD. We demand to be paid in a currency that has value. The Zimbabwean dollar has been rejected by the market. We can no longer pretend otherwise. The government should swallow its pride and scrap the useless Zimdollar until the time the economic fundamentals allows for the introduction of the Zimbabwean dollar.
GOD BLESS WORKERS OF ZIMBABWE
I THANK YOU!