THE Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) says the country was now in a humanitarian crisis and accused government of ignoring the plight of workers and of downplaying the impact of its austerity measures.
In an interview with NewsDay, ZCTU president Peter Mutasa said workers were suffering, but their pleas were being treated with scorn and brutality after police arrested 10 officials from the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe last Friday, together with their lawyer, Douglas Coltart. The officials wanted to present a petition to Finance minister Mthuli Ncube over poor teachers’ salaries of around $500 a month.
“Due to shortages of (electricity) and low domestic demand, many companies are scaling down and some are closing shop with people losing jobs; and retrenchments are now common in the labour market. What we have now is a humanitarian crisis of gigantic proportions,” Mutasa said.
“Workers and trade unions have tried to make government understand the folly of continuing in this direction of austerity measures, but this has been met with scorn and brutality, and as a result workers have no other option than to stop working and to protest until government is ready to listen,” he said.
Workers from different sectors have declared incapacity due to the low wages.
In the past two weeks, the police have snuffed out five attempts by the opposition MDC to hold demonstrations to protest over government’s handling of the economy.
Zimbabwe’s economy is mired in its worst crisis in a decade characterised by rolling power cuts, and shortages of fuel, cash, medicines and increased clampdown on citizens by security forces.
“Everything is getting to a standstill and nothing is functioning despite the tomfoolery being displayed by some policymakers, especially the Finance minister Mthuli Ncube and government spokespersons,” he said.
Mutasa said workers could no longer afford to report for work, pay rentals, feed their families or pay school fees.
“No amount of brutality must lead to people surrendering their constitutional rights. Workers will never surrender their collective power. The ZCTU has completed its consultations and workers have emphatically demanded that we call for nationwide general strikes until the government starts to respect citizen engagement. We are announcing the form and dates soon.
“People are starving and dying in homes due to lack of medical care. The country is in total darkness and queues for fuel and even bread are the order of the day. What is a 76% increment from someone that has increased fees of all government services by over 500%? That is a mockery. Wages have been eroded by up to eleven-fold since Ncube adopted fascist economic experiments,” he said after the latest government offer to its workers.
While prices of goods and services keep going up daily, including exchange rate movements, salaries of both public and private sector employees have remained stagnant and they were robbed of their future through erosion of their pensions and savings, Mutasa said.
“The only solution is to redollarise and have workers earn the stable currency again or pay salaries based on the prevailing interbank exchange rate,” he opined.
Mutasa described Ncube’s financial measures as disastrous neo-liberal economic structural adjustment policies.
“We warned Ncube against Nazi-style economic authoritarianism of austerity. Instead of taking heed they brutalised and arrested us,” he said.
The ZCTU president added that the labour laws had been amended several times in favour of capital, further noting that the judiciary has been aiding the neo-liberal agenda through retrogressive judgments like the Zuva decision and many others over the years.
On the Tripartite Negotiation Forum (TNF), Mutasa said it was dysfunctional and lacked political will.
“The government does not believe in genuine and effective citizen participation. When we met on June 26, the inaugural meeting after the TNF Act came into effect; there was only one minister and two deputy ministers present.
All the other important ministers snubbed it as they normally do. The resolution of TNF for Cabinet to review Statutory Instrument 142 of 2009 taking into account inputs of both business and labour was also brushed aside,” he said.
He said demonstrations and any other collective actions were a legitimate means of exerting pressure on the decision-makers and were also guaranteed in the Constitution.
The call for nationwide protests comes as police recently banned MDC’s free Zimbabwe marches and beat up protesters who had gathered for the Harare demonstration on August 16.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Progressive Teachers Union secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said failure by government to give teachers a meaningful increment will seriously affect the November examinations.
“Third term might not even re-open as long as the issues of teachers are not addressed. We will not be deterred and we are sending a clear message to government that we are not going to allow them to do what they are doing by increasing prices of everything except wages,” Majongwe said.
Last week, government offered a 76% increase for civil servants, which will see the lowest getting paid slightly above $1 000.
Civil servants rebuffed the offer saying it “does not meet the stated position of the workers which is $4 750 for the least paid civil servant”.