Time for workers to take action

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions is consulting stakeholders and educating the public ahead of a planned protest against government’s failure to improve the economy and the welfare of workers.

Leonard Zhakata churns out music in solidarity with the struggling workers.
Leonard Zhakata churns out music in solidarity with the struggling workers.

ZCTU President, George Nkiwane, told The Zimbabwean in a recent exclusive interview that his organisation would consult its partners in civil society and likeminded stakeholders for a successful challenge against government shortcomings.

Nkiwane said the plight of Zimbabwe workers had reached shocking levels and it was time struggling workers took action.

He could not give timelines for the protests “as there is need for proper planning.”

“We have realised the need for thorough consultations ahead of the protests, as we want the exercise to be a success,” said Nkiwane, stressing that workers should take on government once and for all as the political system needed correction.

The outspoken labour unionist said workers would be justified in rising against the system as political decisions affected the fate of all.

The majority of Zimbabwe’s workers earn between $150 and $200, far below the poverty datum line of around $550.

According to Nkiwane, government had realised that it failed to deliver and was diverting the nation’s attention by highlighting the hefty salaries earned by some top officials at parastatals and other state enterprises “as if it was hearing of these obscene salaries for the first time.”

In 2010 the ZCTU expressed concern to government about the salary gap between the highest and lowest paid workers at some institutions, but the powers that be chose to –turn a blind eye, he said.

The labour body took a swipe at Zanu (PF)’s economic blue print, Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zimasset) describing it as non-consultative, and based on a Zanu (PF) manifesto and Presidential speeches.

Strategy and ownership

Nkiwane said Zimasset lacked the required national employment strategy and ownership and queried where the funds would come from.

He called on government to audit its debts and account for every cent borrowed. Government says that the labour laws favour workers and need to be addressed so that they enable the employer to hire and fire labour at will through flexible labour contracts and wage determinations.

Nkiwane said the government proposed flexible labour contracts was among the reasons why workers should stand up for their rights. He said the casualisation of labour and classification of Export Processing Zones as sectors where labour laws would not apply was justification enough for the workers’ uprising.

ZCTU Secretary General, Japhet Moyo, said at the recent Workers’ Day commemorations that workers lived in serious poverty.

He said Zimbabwe’s future was bleak as even those in government did not understand the Zanu (PF) panacea to the sick economy, Zimasset. “Zimasset is just a wishful programme that will not turn around the gloomy situation,” said Moyo, also calling workers to warm-up for action.

The MDC-T President added his weight to the call for workers’ uprisings. “Nothing will move on the part of government if Zimbabweans do not take action,” Tsvangirai told workers and citizens at Mayday commemorations and party rallies.

Analyst Zechariah Mushawatu said it was doubtful if ZCTU had the capacity to mobilise people for a mass action like it used to do in the past.


As ZCTU secretary general, Morgan Tsvangirai led a devastating general strike in December 1997 that paralyzed the country. This was the most successful job action since Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980. The workers were protesting against a special 5% levy on wages and against massive rises in fuel prices and taxes.

The July 1997 protests took their toll on the security companies, hotels, restaurants, construction, banks, cement and lime companies, Railway, textile and postal services as workers demanded 40% salary increases.

In July of the same year, frustrated war veterans camped outside Mugabe’s residence, shouted him down at a Heroes Day commemoration speech and went on to storm the Zanu (PF) headquarters, urinating on the walls.

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