May Day brings no cheer to Zim workers

AS the world prepares to commemorate Workers’ Day on Monday, there is nothing for employees to cheer about in Zimbabwe, where 95% of its employable population is stranded.

Candid Comment,Faith Zaba
fzaba@zimind.co.zw

Workers’ Day is supposed to be an occasion on which employees commemorate their historical struggles and intensify the quest for good working conditions and fair remuneration.

However, in Zimbabwe there is nothing to celebrate. The few Zimbabweans who are still formally employed are faring no better than the millions who are unemployed as they battle the devastating effects of the country’s economic implosion. This has seen most workers going for months without salaries or being paid in dribs and drabs.

Indeed, since last year’s commemorations, the situation for workers has tremendously deteriorated.

Prior to economic dereliction, the day was marked by pomp and fanfare as government officials would address scores of workers from all over the country.

In the 1980s, government and trade unions would hold May Day celebrations jointly, which would be attended by President Robert Mugabe.

Today is a different story. Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s address to a near-empty stadium at last year’s Workers’ Day commemorations drives home the stark contrast. Formal employment has been decimated with the deepening economic crisis bringing about massive company closures and substantive job losses. The statistics make grim reading.

According to Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, between 2011 and 2014, a total of 4 610 companies closed shop, resulting in the loss of 55 543 jobs. Nearly 9 000 have been retrenched in 2015 and 2016 with at least 260 companies closing last year, according to figures availed by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

The bloodletting is set to continue with the National Railways of Zimbabwe and Hwange Colliery announcing plans to each shed more than 1 000 workers. Zesa is also undertaking a massive restructuring exercise, which could result in more than 1 700 employees losing jobs.

It makes a mockery of government’s electoral promise of creating 2,2 million jobs in 2013. Instead, Zimbabwe country has become a nation of vendors.

The formal sector is now an endangered species, driven to near-extinction by the informalisation of the economy.

Indeed, according to a survey by the Vendors’ Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (Viset) conducted between February and April this year, at least 2 187 graduates in the country’s two largest cities are surviving on street vending.

Faced with such glaring failure to create the promised jobs, government has now shamelessly changed tune, saying self-employment is the way to go.

It is against this background that Workers’ Day will be an occasion that exposes government’s failure more than it celebrates workers.