THE Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has demanded that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government decisively tackle the country’s economic challenges or risk workers going on an indefinite strike saying thousands of employees were on the verge of losing their jobs as companies shut down while earnings have been severely eroded.
ZCTU president Peter Mutasa, in an exclusive interview told NewsDay that the 2019 outlook was that of a tough period and there were indications that many companies may fail to reopen in the new year.
“The country is coming to a total shutdown. We are not pessimistic, but we saw this in 2008 and all the signs are heading towards a second 2008. Unfortunately, in this period, we don’t think that we have leadership. The State is not well coordinated, so we are facing a very serious crisis,” Mutasa said.
ZCTU said only a united labour force and citizens had the power to stop the economic rot, by confronting the Mnangagwa regime for answers.
“We think citizens are going to rise to the occasion. For the workers, the ZCTU has given its leadership a mandate that we must co-ordinate all workers and unions, even those that are not within our federations. We want to unite all unions; unite the poor, the farmers, the students — all the progressive forces and wage a struggle to force the government to the negotiating table,” Mutasa said.
The workers, who have faced brutal attacks from the police every time they have tried to go on the streets, said they were unmoved and would down tools.
“This January, workers should just down tools. We should just stop working until there are economic reforms. You have seen what has happened with the doctors; we are going to see teachers doing the same, civil servants — we will be calling on all workers to stop working and demand economic reforms. So it’s going to be a very sensitive January,” Mutasa said.
Salaries for workers remain bench-marked at United States dollar values but they get paid in bond notes and electronic transfers, which have lost 67% of their value in the last quarter despite government insistence that its surrogate currency at par with the greenback.
Prices in bond notes have, however, been adjusted to reflect the discrepancies between government policy and reality on the ground.
Already, ZCTU has started telling its members in the mining, cotton and tobacco industry not to accept payment in real time gross settlement and instead only accept US$.
Economist Joseph Kanyenze said 2019 could be a lost year if Zimbabwe’s main political parties fail to talk to each other, and have a social contract to deal with the current crisis.
“Even if people are not mobilised you could see social unrest. Workers can down tools, yes, because of the loss of value in their salaries, but that will not be a solution, dialogue for a social contract will bring us out of this crisis,” he said.
Kanyenze said re-engagement with the international community, which Mnangagwa has prioritised to end the country’s decades of isolation under former President Robert Mugabe, would not immediately happen or bring results without fundamentals being addressed.
“We have been doing the wrong things for a long time so we are not going to come from gloom to glory overnight. Remember, re-engagement will only happen after we settle our obligations and reforms. And we are also facing a drought that will make things worse,” he said.
Kanyenze said Zanu PF and MDC needed to talk with each other and also heal fissures in their respective parties.
“Unfortunately, the current government is a continuation of the past; we are not seeing anything meaningful in terms of reforms,” he said.
MDC leader Nelson Chamisa told NewsDay yesterday that the Zimbabwe crisis could only be solved through political dialogue.
“Next year, the social fabric looks to be taking a big beating. Economic stability can only be built on political stability and legitimacy, and of course political stability. It rests on economic viability. At the moment, the problem is that there is no confidence in the economy, in the market, in the country,” Chamisa said.