WORKERS Day, an occasion on which employees commemorate their historical struggles and intensify battles for good working conditions and fair remuneration while establishing a culture of human and worker rights, in Zimbabwe this year invites the obvious observation that there is nothing to celebrate.
Zimbabwe Independent Editorial
The labour movement has been emasculated by an economy in ruins and by political brutes hostile to the whole concept of independent workers movement.
This year’s May 1 “celebrations” yesterday merely illustrated the extent of the problem. A decade of struggle over political change and economic ownership has seen company closures, joblessness and poverty rise dramatically.
This newspaper in January published statistics by Nssa taken from employers indicating there will be further company closures.
Among the companies that have retrenched are heavy-hitters such as Bindura Nickel, Olivine Industries, PG Industries, and Spar Supermarkets.
A decade of cumulative decline until 2009 culminated in serious shrinking of the economy and associated social service deliver failure, including water and power shortages which made it impossible to carry on operations. Nssa says 711 companies in Harare have closed this year rendering 8 336 jobless.
Company closures will in turn reduce the government’s tax base.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Japhet Moyo makes the point that whereas 10 years ago workers would attend ceremonies with wages in their pockets, they now attend, if at all, with juice cards and tomatoes which they are now selling.
Some workers have crossed borders en masse to become economic refugees. Others have retreated to rural areas. This is one of the most appalling legacies of President Robert Mugabe’s disastrous rule.
New labour law reforms enabling employers to hire and fire have compounded difficulties for workers. Celebrating Workers Day in an environment of company closures and mass unemployment is ludicrous. From a business point of view, companies say things have never been as bad. The whole economy has become informalised.
Part of the problem is schism in the labour movement. The breakaway Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions was designed to provide a pro-Zanu PF movement at a time when the besieged ruling party was determined to undermine the MDC-backed ZCTU.
With unemployment at 80%, it is difficult to see how the luxury of politically-sponsored divisions within the labour movement can be sustained. Zimbabwe used to have the second largest economy in the region after South Africa prior to the internecine warfare between political parties after 2000. The current decline makes events such as yesterday’s all the more empty and pointless.
Zanu PF’s chaotic policies wrecked the economy, including agriculture with all its downstream industries. Economic ignorance and policy inconsistencies have played a major role in government’s shocking record of mismanagement.
That is why even after winning elections, albeit controversially, Mugabe and his ministers are badly clueless. this year’s Workers Day is a sad testimony to what can go wrong in an economy when politicians recklessly pursue parocial political agendas.