Labour export exposes govt desperation

THE recent move by government to invite graduates to forward their names for labour exportation is fresh confirmation of the dismal failure by the Zanu PF government to provide jobs for unemployed citizens as the economic crisis shows no signs of abating.

Hazel Ndebele/ Kudzai Kuwaza

The plan is contrary to the party’s high-sounding but daydreaming 2013 election manifesto in which it promised to provide more than two million jobs by 2018. Instead, unemployment is on the increase as more and more companies succumb to the harsh operating environment characterised by a severe liquidity crunch, with the unemployment rate currently estimated north of 85%.

In a shocking development last month, Higher and Tertiary Education deputy minister Godfrey Gandawa said his ministry had signed agreements with several countries for labour exportation which, ostensibly for fear it might be perceived as a continuation of the brain drain, is being officially referred to as “brain circulation”.

Gandawa also said employment of Zimbabweans in several countries would benefit government as the countries would pay as well as cater for the welfare of staff. To this end government says it is drawing up a database of unemployed graduates dating to as far back as 1980 with a view to sending them to neighbouring countries such as Botswana and Angola.

The invitation for skilled workers to ply their trade abroad is in stark contrast to an ambitious skills retention programme carried out by government in 2006 in order to fight the debilitating brain drain prompted by the country’s economic meltdown characterised by massive job losses and company closures.

The programme’s aim was to offer incentives for Zimbabweans in the diaspora with critical skills to return to the country. Millions of Zimbabweans are immigrants all over the world, in search of decent living as the country’s economic fortunes appear doomed to worsen before they start to improve.

Like many other well-intentioned government programmes, there has been very little in the way of results when it comes to arresting the brain drain.

Zimbabwe has lost critical skills to countries who offer better salaries and working conditions, despite investing heavily in education and training. Among the country’s citizens who have left the country for greener pastures are engineers, doctors, accountants, architects and bankers.

But government now regards labour exportation as part of the solution to reducing rising unemployment wrought by quickening company closures, which has resulted in the informalisation of the economy. Fears abound that the move will only result in the haemorrhaging of skills vital to the recovery of the comatose economy.

Last week Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa revealed Zimbabwe would soon start sending nurses to South Sudan as part of efforts to ease growing unemployment within the profession.

Ironically, Gandawa earlier this year bemoaned the devastating effects of the brain drain.

Officially opening the regional bio-safety training workshop in Harare, the deputy minister said the country is experiencing a severe brain drain of bio-safety experts who can assist in the application of bio-technology in Zimbabwe.

Government’s remarkable volte-face exposes just how desperate it is to boost its severely depleted coffers, as it increasingly struggles to meet its public service salary obligations.

The wage bill is gobbling up an unsustainable more than 80% of revenue, thus crowding out critical capital expenditure programmes such as building of vital infrastructure such as roads, power stations, dams and airports.

The 2006 Zimbabwe Health Services Board Annual Report identified the key push factors for the migration of health service workers to other sectors and countries by canvassing Zimbabwe’s health workers.

The workers said they were motivated to leave by the country’s poor economic performance, poverty-level wages, unsupportive management and insufficient social recognition of their work.

The move to further deplete critical skills through labour exportation goes against the principles of the country’s much-touted but largely unimplemented economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset).
Zanu PF promised the nation 2,2 million jobs in its 2013 election manifesto, but as the move to export labour shows, this remains a pipedream.

This is evidenced by the huge number of vendors sprawled across the pavements of Harare’s central business district, a scenario largely replicated in other cities countrywide.

The move to export labour is government’s way of reducing criticism from Zimbabweans angered by the rising levels of unemployment and general economic decay, analysts said.

At least 7 000 employees were retrenched last year, with more than 50 companies letting go of their workers as operational challenges continue to bite. The manufacturing sector is operating at about 39% capacity, plunging from 57,2% in 2011.

Economist John Robertson said government is ignoring the causes of the high levels of unemployment, which he said include toxic policies.
“Exportation of labour is totally an incorrect diagnosis to fix the problem; government has to turn Zimbabwe into a country where investors will happily invest in, in the long run providing jobs,” said Robertson. “Policies which need to be reviewed include that of indigenisation and the land policy; labour laws also need to be reviewed so as to create a better environment for investors.”

He also said exportation of labour would not help the country as it risks losing people who can help revive the ailing economy.
Estimates are that there are between two and three million Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa, most of whom have fled from the country’s economic malaise.

Former Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce president Oswell Binha said exporting labour has both an upside and a downside to it.
“It is good as it will help solve the problem of unemployment and help enhance the national balance of payment as it will generate funds for the country,” Binha said. “The downside is that it could exacerbate the brain drain.”

He said the highly informalised economy makes it impossible for the country to accommodate graduates from various tertiary institutions into formal employment, and warned the exercise to export labour should not be government’s alone, but must also involve labour.

“This programme must not be a government programme, but a stakeholder programme that involves labour. This would ensure the country does not export its workforce to countries with unfriendly labour regimes.”