Country’s wage-slaves mark Workers’ Day in misery

Tedison Mbeva, the president of the National Union of the Clothing Industry, said Zimbabwean workers were no better off than slaves since their wages hardly met their basic needs.

Use the day to fight for freedom – Shamiso Chigwazeni.
Use the day to fight for freedom – Shamiso Chigwazeni.

He said workers in sectors such as clothing earned a basic wage of $166 a month and were expecting only a one per cent increment this year. As a result, Mbeva said, workers would find little to celebrate on May Day.

“Most workers in the industry can no longer afford to commute to work from home every day and have to put up for the night at the railway station and even in water drainage systems,” Mbeva said.

The outspoken union leader said that, regardless of the situation, workers should come out in force to reflect on their problems and chart the way forward.

He called on workers’ committees to talk to their employers and push for acceptable salaries, since workers could no longer survive on their pitiful wages.

“Workers’ Day has lost its significance in the country since government itself has continued to distance itself from the event,” Mbeva said, pointing out that trade unions and opposition political parties would be taking part in the celebrations.

Mbeva said this time around workers in the clothing sector would not accept anything below $224 a month. If their call for a fair wage failed, they would speak to the minister for labour and social welfare, Nicholas Goche.

A Harare worker, Shamiso Chigwazeni, said under normal circumstances workers would gather at designated venues and commemorate the Workers’ Day in a jovial mood.

She said Zimbabwe workers, especially women, should take the day as an opportunity to express themselves and fight for freedom.

She said there was little media space for women to express themselves and project their expectations ahead of important occasions like the Workers’ Day.

“Wages in sectors dominated by women, such as clothing, are peanuts, not enough to last the worker’s family a week,” said Chigwazeni, urging workers in her situation to continue fighting for a living wage through events such as the Workers’ Day commemorations.

Chigwazeni blamed poor attendances at the celebrations on previous false promises made by employers and government officials to employees on such occasions.

She called on government and employers to consider awarding all workers housing and transport allowances.

Misi Madaka, a tailor, said workers should use the day to push for more gender equality as provided for in the constitution.

“The day should be taken as an opportunity to ensure that women workers’ rights, such as paid compassionate leave, are tabled and implemented,” said Madaka.

She said it was time labour unions and government secured safety and health in the workplace for women.

She encouraged women to attend the celebrations regardless of the difficult circumstances they found themselves in.

Samuel Manhema, who is now unemployed, called on Zimbabweans from across the political divide to come out with their families to commemorate the day. He said that since children would be future workers it was important that they be part of the commemorations.

“Given the resilience of the worker, it is time the employer paid their labour commensurate salaries,” Manhema said, warning employers against fake promises and empty rhetoric.

Manhema challenged the ministry of labour to take action rather than paying lip service to improving working conditions.

He said a worker with grievances would not produce to expectations, resulting in poor national productivity.

“As workers we find ourselves in a situation whereby the employer prospers at the expense of the poor worker,” said Manhema, urging both the worker and employer to meet half-way and work as a team.

Nelson Dhafeti said the improvement of workers’ welfare should start from the grassroots, family level.

Dhafeti said that when a husband began to appreciate that a housewife should be rewarded accordingly for the household chores, then the formal employer and government would follow suit.

Dhafeti pointed out that people should desist from politicising the Workers’ Day so that people were encouraged to take part.

“Workers should not abuse the day with threats to the employer especially government, as this could widen the rift between the two,” said Dhafeti.

Dhafeti suggested that workers should be awarded a percentage of their pension after ten years in employment.

He was quick to point out that non-political workers’ gatherings would attract all stakeholders including churches, employer and government representatives.

Dhafeti said: “Only issues to do with the worker should find space on the day.”

He suggested that to improve the welfare of the worker, the employer should help provide shelter and transport for all labour.

“In the past, the worker would be allocated a house by the employer soon after securing employment.”

The workers’ representative umbrella body, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, said workers of today were surviving under difficult conditions.

The ZCTU secretary-general, Josphat Moyo, said when workers were faced with tough situations, as now, they should find reason to come together and mobilise around a common agenda.

He said this time around workers should unite, intensify the struggle and say no to labour market flexibility.

Moyo said that labour market flexibility allowed contract terms of employment and gave provision for the employer to hire and fire workers at will.

“Workers would use the commeorations to fight for their rights such as freedom at the workplace, provision of free ARVs and rule of law among other basics,” Moyo said.

Moyo said with the ongoing company closures, most of the workers were now in the informal sector as vendors and housewives.

ZCTU was no longer looking for workers in the industry but in the street.

“School leavers who failed to secure employment and those thrown out of work will grace the celebrations at various venues dotted across the country,” Moyo said, admitting that they expected numbers to be low as many would not want to set aside paid work to take part.

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