The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) stands in solidarity with workers who dedicate their efforts to keep the wheels of government, industry, commerce and civil society turning through provision of labour. The Forum pays tribute to the resilience and perseverance of workers who in some cases endure unsatisfactory working conditions, earning paltry salaries amidst an ailing economy. Workers are critical to the existence of a modern economy and are the backbone of an organised society. The Forum is concerned about the low remuneration of government employees which can barely meet the high costs of goods and services. Government teachers and health personnel have engaged the government over their remuneration and working conditions in the past year and their concerns have not been satisfactorily resolved. The Constitution of Zimbabwe in section 65(4) states that workers must have access to satisfactory working conditions. The Constitution provides in section 65(1) provides that every person has the right to fair and safe labour practices and standards and to be paid a fair and reasonable wage. The government must address the concerns of all their workers ensuring decent salaries and safe working conditions.
Workers have not been spared by the adverse effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic which led to a national lockdown which commenced on 30 March 2020 and a month later, remains in effect until the 3rd of May 2020. Many workers are belaboured by many questions of how long the lockdown will last, whether they will receive their full wages and salaries and whether will they remain in employment during and after the COVID-19 response measures. It is a period of anxiety, given the economic recession worldwide occasioned by the pandemic, and many workers are already being laid off globally. The Forum reminds employers of the need to persevere in the times, resorting to measures that ensure protection of labour rights, and that preserve the workforce and the continued existence and viability of employing entities.
The Forum stands in solidarity with health workers who resolutely stand at the frontline during this time in the fight against COVID-19, putting their lives at risk to ensure that the right to health is availed to every person. Currently, health workers nationwide are not adequately supplied with personal protective equipment. The Forum urges the government to ensure that every health worker in all the districts in Zimbabwe is supplied with personal protective equipment required for their safety in the discharge of their work. The Forum acknowledges all the workers in essential services who are committed to ensuring that basics such as food, water and access to information remain accessible to every person. As such, the Forum calls for employers to ensure that these workers are provided with personal protective equipment in line with their duties to ensure their safety.
Informal and low-income workers are at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 as they continue to find ways to earn a living during the pandemic. The government is urged to consider effective social safety nets for informal workers to ensure their compliance with lockdown guidelines and their access to basic amenities. The Forum calls on all employers to consider the preliminary guidance from the International Labour Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provided in the Family-Friendly Policies and other Good Workplace Practices in the Context of COVID-19: Key steps employers can take, urging employers to consider the impact of business decisions on workers’ families, and to support greater social protection wherever possible.
The Forum calls on the following:
- The government to review salaries of government workers to ensure they are fair and reasonable in line with the high cost of living.
- The government to provide social safety nets for informal and low-income workers including workers with disabilities.
- The government to ensure that health workers have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment in all the 10 provinces of Zimbabwe.
- Employers to ensure that workers providing essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic have access to personal protective equipment.
- Employers to review existing workplace policies within their organisations to ensure they provide sufficient financial support to workers and a safe working environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.