BY EVERSON MUSHAVA/NHAU MANGIRAZI
THE country’s largest labour body, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), has threatened to roll out mass protests and make life difficult for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government until it has acceded to workers’ demand for a living wage.
In a video clip released on Saturday, ZCTU president Peter Mutasa called on workers to fight and make sure those “who are ruling not to enjoy ruling us” if the workers continue to receive slave wages.
“We must unite and fight for a living wage,” Mutasa said.
“It is either we get our living wage so that we restore our dignity, or we fight so that the oppressive class does not back their business through our toiling and that those who are ruling, do not enjoy ruling us.
“We will defy every anti-people and anti-workers policies and practices if the government does not consider the suffering of workers and review or reverse policies and laws such as SI [statutory instrument] 142 of 2019. If employers continue to pay slave wages and commit all workers into abject poverty, then workers only have one option. Workers will have to embark on sustained non-violent resistance and fight back against these bad policies and practices.”
Mutasa’s call for action comes as workers have threatened to pull out of the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF), which brings together the workers, business and government, after parties failed to agree on a standard minimum wage.
The workers have accused business of offering slave wages paid in the fast-devaluing Zimbabwe dollar while using the United States dollar as a reference currency when charging goods and services.
The talks stalled after workers demanded a minimum wage of $3 800 across the board against business’ offer of $1 200 per month.
The TNF talks, according to the ZCTU, were also stalled by business’ refusal to adopt the South African rand as an alternative to the free-falling Zimdollar.
The ZCTU has repeatedly demanded that government fixes the economy, characterised by inflation, shortage of goods and rolling power cuts, among others.
In January last year, the ZCTU mobilised for a crippling protest over a 150% fuel price hike by Mnangagwa, but government moved in and ruthlessly crushed it — killing 17 people, while over 200 were allegedly maimed by State security agents, according to civic society organisations.
In the video, Mutasa painted a gloomy picture of how workers were surviving, calling on employers to stop profiteering through the toiling workers.
“Anyone of you who has visited the supermarket lately, and anyone who has paid school fees, anyone of us whose children are going back to university, and anyone of us who has bought textbooks and exercise books, anyone of us who has visited the pharmacy and those of us who have taken a sick relative to the hospital, anyone of us who has visited the rural areas will testify that we have lost our dignity as workers in this country,” he said.
“We are slaves, we have lost more dignity in this country, we are earning slave wages, we can’t provide for the bare minimums, we can’t provide for accommodation, for our family, we can’t provide for decent meals, we can’t provide for clothing, we can’t provide for medical care, and now we cannot send our children to school.”
Added Mutasa: “This is why as the ZCTU and all other unions out there, we are demanding, and justifiably so, for a living wage. We want you to hear us in this demand. It is a working class struggle and it is our struggle. We do not mind if we are in the public sector. You may be in the informal sector, you are a worker. You, in the rural economy, you are a worker; you are in the urban economy, you are a worker.”
Contacted for comment yesterday, government said it was seized with the issue of wages and working to ensure workers earn salaries above the poverty datum line (PDL), which in December 2019 stood at around $4 000.
“Government is seized with the issue of wages and is fully committed to rewarding workers satisfactorily,” Information deputy minister Energy Mutodi said.
“We held TNF meetings recently in which ZCTU president Peter Mutasa and others attended and it was agreed by stakeholders that a minimum wage would be pegged. We believe those negotiations will end labour unrest as all workers’ unions were represented.
“The minimum wage will be based on the poverty datum line, ensuring that no worker earns a salary below the poverty datum line. Following the deliberations that we made as TNF, it is not in the interest of the negotiations for any one stakeholder to make pronouncements such as those by the ZCTU before a final agreement is reached.”
In a related development, the Zimbabwe Diamonds Allied Miners Workers Union (ZDAMWU) has called on its membership to reject salaries below the PDL.
In a statement, ZDAMWU secretary-general Justice Chinhema said mine workers had suffered immensely as their wages had failed to keep pace with inflation.
‘Furthermore, the situation has worsened, rendering it practically impossible for workers across all sectors to earn the current salaries and sustain their families or be able to go to work,” Chinhema said, adding that the minimum wage of $3 800 must be implemented through a statutory instrument.