Workers’ Day: Not worth celebrating

AS the country commemorated Workers’ Day on Wednesday, most workers had little to celebrate as the economic crisis worsens, severely eroding incomes while a dwindling number of people in formal jobs is in stark contrast to government’s promise to create employment.

By Kudzai Kuwaza

The International Workers’ Day, also known as Workers’ Day, Labour Day in some countries and often referred to as May Day, is a celebration of labourers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labour movement which occurs every year on May 1.

Despite President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s declaration that he would create jobs when he came to power in 2017, unemployment figures have grown with more workers being thrown onto the streets since he took over from the deposed Robert Mugabe.

Mnangagwa made the promise to create jobs the cornerstone of his presidential campaign in the run-up to last year’s disputed July 30 elections which he won by a wafer-thin 50,6%.

However, he has sung a different tune since winning the election, particularly on the all-important issue of job creation.

In an article he authored in the British publication, the Financial Times, Mnangagwa vowed to implement tough austerity measures.

“A large and inefficient public sector cannot be allowed to hold back private enterprise. We have set about cutting unnecessary expenditure, therefore. We are reducing the number of ministries, limiting foreign travel and perks for officials, and retiring or redeploying senior officers,” he said.

More than 50 companies have been liquidated since Mnangagwa came to power in November 2017, in stark contrast to the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra.

The Master of the High Court’s office has revealed that 55 companies were granted a provisional order to be liquidated from November 2017 to December 2018.

Companies on the 2018 list of liquidated firms include GT Tavarura Bus Services, Oil Seed Processing (Pvt) Ltd, Gramlex Investments P/L, Bush Mills, Chegutu Canners (Pvt) Ltd, Zimbabwe Oil Soap Manufacturing, Malacoe Investments and BCL Ltd.

Others are Notofy Enterprises (Pvt) Ltd, Kingmaker Corporate Resources, Heritage Printing (Pvt) Ltd, Better Agriculture (Pvt) Ltd and Grafax Cotton (Pvt) Ltd, among others.

Banks such as Standard Chartered and Cabs have retrenched some of their workforce, adding to the long list of the unemployed in Zimbabwe which, according to the International Labour Organisation, stands at more than 90%.

The job losses are a continuation of the Mugabe era when unemployment became rife as a result of the massive economic decline.

More than 2 800 workers were retrenched by 73 companies in 2017 for various reasons ranging from restructuring to viability challenges.

A total of 8 843 workers were laid off in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, 5 333 workers were retrenched and this does not include those who were affected by the July 17 Supreme Court ruling that year which allowed employers to dismiss workers on three months’ notice.

In 2016, there were 3 510 workers who were retrenched, worsening unemployment levels.

More than 6 000 workers were retrenched in 2014. The job losses are a continuation of the Mugabe era when unemployment became rife as a result of massive economic decline.

Life is no better for the majority of those who are still in employment. The decisions by government to separate RTGS and forex accounts in October last year resulted in prices of goods skyrocketing, severely eroding workers’ disposable incomes.

According to official statistics, prices of goods have shot up by almost 200% between October last year and April this year.

Products such as cooking oil, washing powder and laundry bar soap has shot up by more than 100% in the last seven months.

According to the statistics, the price of 2 litres of cooking oil has increased by 195% from $4 in October to $11,80 in April with the cost of washing powder skyrocketing by 183,9% from $8 in October to $22,71 in April. The price of laundry bar soap shot up by 122,2% in the seven-month period from $1,80 in October to $4 in April.
The price increases have worsened after the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe altered the exchange rate from 1:1 to the United States dollar to 1:2,5. The price of bread has since gone up from $1,80 to $3,50, an increase of nearly 100%. Mobile network operators have also significantly hiked their charges, particularly for data.

The price increases have hard hit most workers whose salaries have remained stagnant.

Even the health of workers is at serious risk as most pharmacies and health institutions have introduced or continue to charge members of various medical aid societies for shortfalls for services rendered amid increased healthcare bills.

“Medical aid societies have been receiving numerous complaints from their members and employer organisations over the increases in contributions as salaries are not going up,” the Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) revealed in a statement.

“The prevailing economic conditions, characterised by liquidity challenges among many other negatives have not spared health funders either. AHFoZ proposes that an urgent meeting of all concerned stakeholders be convened in order to find a workable solution so that patients continue accessing the required healthcare services.”

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Japhet Moyo said there is very little to celebrate on the day set aside for workers, adding that the workers’ plight has worsened since Mnangagwa took over on the back of a coup.

“After November when Mnangagwa came in, workers expected that their lives will improve with the cash crisis ending. Nothing has improved. If anything, we are worse off than before the coup,” Moyo noted.

“Life is much harder. Workers are struggling to put food on the table, struggling to pay school fees, struggling to pay bills and struggling to complete their studies. Because of eroding pensions, workers who are going to retire are going to be rendered destitute.”

He pointed out that as the country commemorates Workers’ Day, there has been an increase in the number of workers who are being victimised by employers for being part of the workers’ committee.

“Social justice at the workplace is non- existent,” Moyo said. “It is now dangerous to be part of a workers’ committee because you could lose your job as a result.”