WITH the onset of the new year, there has been an increase in the demand by workers to be paid their salaries in hard currency. This has been prompted by the rapid fall in value of the Zimbabwe dollar which is the currency that is used by most workers. Deputy business editor Kudzai Kuwaza (KK) caught up with the recently-elected Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Florence Taruvinga (FT) to discuss, among other issues, the challenges workers face, the demand for salaries in hard currencies and outlook for this year.
KK: What are your objectives as the recently-elected Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions President?
FT: The objectives of the ZCTU President are organisational objectives, these are guided by the ZCTU Constitution. But most importantly my focus is to ensure that we promote social justice and the achievement of decent work for workers. Our collective interest as ZCTU is to ensure that employers and government respect the rights of workers by ensuring observance of the enshrined rights and that workers enjoy the rights that govern them.
We are focused on ensuring that workers earn salaries which are above the poverty datum line. It is of paramount importance that working should transform workers from being poor. We are concerned with the high levels of poor working people. The salaries have been too meagre over time to allow for workers to have disposable incomes which can be transformative. The case of Zimbabwean workers has been that of living from hand to mouth and that should surely change.
KK: What is your assessment of the year 2021 in terms of workers welfare?
FT: In terms of the welfare of workers in 2021,our view is that it was a very difficult year owing to among other things the Covid-19 induced lockdowns. The majority of companies were operating with skeleton staff, with some workers at home. That saw employers unilaterally violating workers’ rights by not following set-down procedures on what should be done in crisis times such as the one before us.
Workers have suffered arbitrary deduction or reduction of salaries and wages.
Most employers have gone on to punish the workers through those unilateral and arbitrary reductions in salaries. Employers and the government forget that workers are also economic beings who require their salaries to meet other critical related costs.
KK: What is your view of workers who are demanding to be paid in United States dollars?
FT: In principle we agreed at the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) that the minimum wage should be based on the levels of the poverty datum line. We also agreed that the principle of restoration of workers’ wages that prevailed in April 2018, should have been maintained. Then the PDL was USD$500.
However when it came to implementation of the recommendation, which was to promulgate an Statutory Instrument with the minimum wage being half of USD PDL which existed in 2018, the government decided to implement it as Zim dollar ZW$2 549,74 as captured in SI 81/2020. This was a departure from the recommendation.
Our standpoint is that this economy can afford paying workers in USD.
KK: How important is the TNF in finding solutions to the economic challenges the country is facing?
FT: The Tripartite Negotiating Forum would have been the vital cog missing in our social and economic landscape. Unfortunately the TNF Act provides that whatever issues or recommendations which are derived from the negotiations should be referred to Cabinet for discussion and ratification.
Unfortunately at times this is where the wheels sometimes come off. The Cabinet is not answerable to the TNF and therefore can afford to make any decisions that they deem fit regardless of the position of TNF. Generally as ZCTU we are firmly in Social Dialogue and believe that with correct principles and systems the TNF will put Zimbabwe back on track.
KK: Looking at the issue of retrenchments, how widespread were they in 2021?
FT: In 2021 most employers took advantage of the Covid-19 induced lockdowns to arbitrarily lay off or retrench workers.
Following the promulgation of the Labour Amendment Act No 5, 2015 it has become much cheaper for employers to retrench workers giving them a mere pittance. The Amendment Act allows employers to pay retrenchment packages of one month salary for every two years served. To us as ZCTU this means that workers in Zimbabwe are no longer guaranteed employment security. The Amendment Act No 5, has made life precarious for workers.
KK: What is your view of the proposed National Health Scheme?
FT: As the ZCTU we have been very clear and consistent on our views towards the National Health Scheme. We have always indicated that the scheme was a noble idea but the government needs to deal with the fundamentals first before anything else.
Firstly medical and health care being provided by state institutions were in a shambles and needed to be urgently worked on to revamp the quality of the facility.
The National Health Scheme should not be administered by the National Social Security Authority (Nssa) as currently constituted. Already our view is that Nssa has got its hands full with managing the fund which is mainly composed of funds generated from the workers. It would be counter-productive to then overload Nssa with the responsibilities to manage NHS funds.
We are also of the view that broader consultations have to be done with workers on the scheme. Our view being that already workers are indicating that they feel that they are over taxed, yet there are issues on how the funds from the fiscus are being utilised. The comments from the Auditor General have spoken to widespread fiscal indiscipline. All those factors weigh heavily on our decision as labour to either support or not support the intended policy initiative.
KK: What is the outlook for 2022?
FT: The outlook for 2022 from our view will be fraught with many challenges. However, as the labour movement and ZCTU in particular we are ready for the challenges and we surely intend to turn the challenges into stepping stones towards decent work and better living and working conditions for workers and their families.
On the collective bargaining side, the majority of our trade unions have already exchanged position papers with employers in preparation for collective bargaining. We have had sight of some of the position papers coming from employers and to say the least the employers are spoiling for a huge fight with Labour. We are aware that the majority of employers are charging for the prices of goods and services in USD while they are paying the employees in the Zimbabwe dollar and usually through mobile payment facility Ecocash.
We are aware that the salary disparity gap between workers at the shop floor and those in management has widened to almost the similar levels which existed in the period between 2012 and 2015.
We are ready as unions to ensure that workers also get to enjoy a share of the cake.
We are also aware that the government usually sets the pace and we are watching very closely developments and indications from our government.
Our demand as Labour has remained equivocally clear. We are demanding the restoration of workers’ salaries that were in USD to the levels which they were in 2018
We are also demanding that the salaries should be above PDL. We are of the firm belief that once the workers purchasing power is increased this will reflect in improvement in the performance of the economy.A cursory survey in our supermarkets will show you that most products are now being sold after the sell by date has long passed. Goods, products and commodities are plenty in our supermarkets but there are no buyers of those products, workers do not have disposable incomes.