CHRISTMAS has always been a joyous occasion for Zimbabweans and other christians, a day celebrated to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. For many, it is a day associated with family gatherings, razzmatazz, sumptuous feasting, drinking and merry-making.
But for most Zimbabwean workers living on shoe-string budgets and hand to mouth, December 25 could be that day to reflect on the trials and tribulations of 2015 and previous years. Workers and Zimbabweans in general face a bleak Christmas, with many going for the holidays without being paid their December salaries, meaning gnashing of teeth and despair.
Norman Ncube, who was retrenched in July after the July 17 Supreme Court ruling allowing employers to terminate employment contracts on three months’ notices, could not hold back his tears reflecting on painful events of 2015, saying this year’s Christmas day was going to be the worst in his life.
“I haven’t been paid the three months’ salary I am owed and now they are telling me they have no idea when it is coming. What am I going to tell my wife and how am I going to feed my family,” Ncube said with tears running down his face.
“I have many unpaid bills. I have no food — we are on the verge of starvation. This Christmas is going to be worst ever. I can’t even afford to buy chicken and drinks for my family.”
In July, a Supreme Court ruling giving employers power to terminate employment contracts on three months’ notices became a catalyst for unprecedented job cuts which rendered thousands jobless.
The July 17 judgement, which would fly in the face of an ambitious plan by government to create 2,2 million jobs under its five-year economic blueprint ZimAsset, sent thousands onto the streets before authorities moved in to stop a ticking time bomb.
The country’s largest union by numbers, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions estimates that about 30 000 employees were laid off after the court ruling.
Jason Chipanda (37), who had worked for a snacks company for five years, said he has not found a new job since the unpopular Supreme Court ruling.
Among some of the major companies that laid off employees are Econet, Steward Bank, Alpha Media Holdings, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, Zimpapers and AGS.
Infact, thousands of companies retrenched workers while others closed down.
“I have since joined my wife in vending, but we do not get much from it as financial constraints are affecting everyone, resulting in low sales and meagre income,” said Kambuzuma-based Chipanda, who now sells fruit and vegetables for a living.
The printing industry was not saved from the massive job cuts.
“The company that I work for might retrench as it is currently failing to pay salaries. I therefore live in fear of losing my job since I am the bread winner for my family,” said a worker who works for a local media company. “Other than the fear of being retrenched, the company has not paid us for almost three months. I am in debt and I am broke, which is why we cannot even look forward to the festive season.”
Another worker who got retrenched at Baines Avenue Clinic in July this year said life was no longer the same after she was laid off. “Schools are opening soon and I don’t know where I will get money for school fees for my three children. It is inevitable that I have to transfer them from their boarding schools as I can no longer afford to pay school fees for them there,” said a former employee who requested anonymity.
A struggling economy, showing no signs of recovery, has turned dreams of millions of Zimbabweans into nightmares during the festive season. Although government sees the economy growing by a modest 2,7% in the coming year, a figure independent economists say is overly optimistic, the outlook appears gloomy. Commodity prices are depressed, agriculture output is diminished and many companies are teetering on the brink of collapse, painting a grim picture for many.
With revenues declining for most companies, drastic cost-cutting measures such as layoffs have become a way out or staying afloat, sending thousands onto the streets. Independent statistics show that Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate which was triggered by massive deindustrialisation stands at 85%. This came as manufacturing sector capacity utilisation fell to 34,3% this year from 36,5% making the country a net importer.
The country’s manufacturing sector lobby group, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries however, sees output improving over the next two years should government adopt a raft of reforms to improve the ease of doing business in Zimbabwe.
“CZI intends to work with its members, value chain stakeholders, development partners, experts, government and policy makers to raise industrial capacity utilisation to 65% capacity in 24 months …,”CZI president Busisa Moyo said in a recent study on the manufacturing sector.
“This would depend on three critical things; entrepreneurial leadership, rapid confrontation of issues around the cost and ease of doing business and the re-engagement of trade and investment partners outside our borders where our exports end up and where foreign direct investment comes from.”
The year begun with some iconic companies such as AfrAsia Bank formerly Kingdom Bank going under, while stationery company Marvo Stationery (Pvt) Ltd plunged into insolvency. So dire was the situation at Marvo that at some time workers received 30 exercise books as salary, before being forced to go on one-month unpaid leave.
With trickling foreign direct investment and low business activity, a large number of those who lost their jobs continue to face a bleak future. According to the latest United Nations world investment report, Zimbabwe’s foreign direct investment leapt to US$545 million in 2014 — less than 5% of the country’s GDP — from US$400 million in the previous year, driven by interest in mining, infrastructure and services but still lags regional rivals.
Economist John Robertson said Zimbabwe’s economic outlook could remain gloomy in the coming year due to chronic liquidity constraints, low aggregate demand and weakening commodity prices despite claims by President Robert Mugabe that it was on a rebound.
“In as much as we are expecting a number of investors to rescue the country, that is actually long term as it will take time for them to develop business and provide employment,” Robertson said.
“The state of the economy is forcing employees to sacrifice to help out employers survive,” he added.