‘A HUNDRED times every day, I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labours of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.” — Albert Einstein celebrating workers.
As we prepare to commemorate Workers’ Day on Sunday, there is nothing to cheer for employees in Zimbabwe, where more than 95% of its employable population are jobless. This year’s public holiday in Zimbabwe is being observed on Monday, May 2.
Workers’ Day is supposed to be a day for employees to commemorate their historical struggles.
The international holiday, referred to as May Day is observed on May 1 in over 80 countries.
It is a day to celebrate the achievements of the labour movement for workers’ rights and social justice.
But for Zimbabweans, there is really nothing to celebrate this year.
The country has become a nation of vendors, as the economy continues to informalise.
The less than 5% workforce is worse off than the millions who are unemployed as they battle the effects of the country’s economic implosion, characterised by deepening levels of poverty and the erosion of incomes, coupled with serious currency distortions.
This has seen workers being paid peanuts and in some instances going for months without salaries or being paid in dribs and drabs. Wages are depreciating daily as the local currency continues to devalue rapidly on both the official and parallel markets.
This week, foreign exchange rates on the parallel market surpassed the ZW$400 mark to the United States dollar, while it fell to ZW$159,34 to US$1 on the auction floor.
Retailers in Harare have reportedly dumped the Zimbabwean dollar and are demanding payment in United States dollars. This is in a country where the majority of workers are paid less than ZW$50 000 (US$313) and (US$125 on the parallel market) a month
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe recently revealed that the basket for a family of six has gone up to more than ZW$92 000 for the month of March, which is way above the average salary of most workers in Zimbabwe.
Inflation shot up to 96,4 in April.
The situation for workers has deteriorated tremendously since last year’s commemorations.
There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.
Prior to economic dereliction, the day was marked by pomp and fanfare as government officials would address stadium-full audiences across the country.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the government and trade unions would address May Day celebrations jointly, which would be attended by then prime minister and later president, the late Robert Mugabe.
Today the story is in stark contrast. Formal employment has been decimated with deepening economic crisis, which over the years brought about massive company closures and job losses. The situation was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic-induced lockdowns effected globally to contain the spread of the virus.
While the country has seen some improvements in the manufacturing capacity utilisation, it has not had much impact on job creation.
According to Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) quarterly Business Tendency Survey (BTS), the manufacturing sector capacity utilisation increased to 66% for the fourth quarter of 2021 amid indications of high optimism on economic rebound.
Former United States senator Jim Talent clearly states in a famous quote what the Zimbabwe government needs to do.
“When we get the private sector going through job creation and growth, then the governments at all level have revenues to do the things that they need to do. And that’s why it’s so important to get this economy moving, to get jobs created. We can’t keep going on with this anaemic recovery,” Talent said.
US Governor of Maryland Martin O’Miley also states: “Progress is a choice. Job creation is a choice. Whether we give our children a future of more or a future of less – this, too, is a choice”.
The government needs to create a conducive environment for businesses to thrive, for the economy to grow and implement economic policies that attract domestic and foreign direct investment.
Since the economy has significantly informalised, as we commemorate May Day let us remember that: “No work is insignificant. All labour that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.