AS Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating International Workers’ Day next Wednesday, local workers have nothing to celebrate because their working conditions and remuneration have become worse off over the years due to economic failure.
Zimbabwe Independent Editorial
Workers have borne the brunt of unemployment, poor working conditions as well as low salaries and wages. This has weakened trade unionism, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.
In Zimbabwe May Day commemorations always now come amid growing disillusionment among the workforce over poor working conditions, unsustainable remuneration, job losses and poverty.
It has now become a hackneyed complaint that there is nothing to celebrate for workers on May Day, primarily because of the dearth of wages above the poverty datum line, basic social services and freedom.
How did Zimbabwean workers find themselves in this situation? While President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF inherited a functioning economy in 1980, they slowly but surely destroyed it through leadership and policy failures, as well as corruption and incompetence. The poor have seriously suffered consequences of economic mismanagement, political thuggery and violence under Mugabe.
The mass of the Zimbabwean peoples are resultantly struggling as the quality of their lives has deteriorated to calamitous levels. Workers’ Day was originally meant to pay tribute to the achievements of the working class and raise awareness on the struggles faced by workers.
But gone are the days when men and women held well-paying jobs, performed work of a high quality craftsmanship and were proud of their hard work and ability to provide for their families.
Workers are no longer appreciated and live in miserable conditions as they are paid less than a living wage in most cases. The majority of Zimbabwe’s workers earn less than the poverty datum line currently pegged at US$506. The workers’ voice has also been suppressed and they can now easily lose their jobs with no recourse to justice. Official statistics place the unemployment rate at about 75% although it is believed to be as high as 90%.
Since the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions helped form the MDC in 1999 with all its senior leaders entering into mainstream politics, the trade union movement is now virtually dead.
Instead of fighting for the rights of workers and organising to ensure that jobs pay livable wages in safe workplaces, trade unionists now use the labour movement as a springboard to launch their political careers.
Again it’s workers who suffer. As a result of the deterioration of the labour movement, corporate greed is actually threatening the existence of workers by accumulating profit through exploitation. Initially, trade unions were traditionally strong in mining as well as manufacturing industries like steel, coal and engineering.
But by the 1990s these industries were all in decline and the economic collapse from 1997 accelerated their demise, with millions of jobs lost and hordes of professionals leaving the country as the brain drain intensified. Thousands of companies have closed, leaving workers languishing in poverty in a country with plenty of resources.