Workers not intimidated by Mnangagwa govt threats

Published: 01 May 2019
IN SPITE of the hair-raising threats issued by Home Affairs minister Cain Mathema on Monday, government has been told to brace for wildcat protests as the country's embattled workers demand solutions to the worsening economic crisis.

As the country joins the rest of the world in commemorating Labour Day today, unions told the Daily News yesterday that there is really nothing to celebrate for the Zimbabwean worker.

Disposable incomes are losing value on a daily basis as a result of massive price increases which have left workers on the margins of poverty.

To make matters worse, companies are either closing down or scaling down operations to cut losses in the wake of reduced demand for their products and services and worsening overheads.

With inflation wiping out incomes, workers - through their unions - are weighing their options.

Moderates have been calling for dialogue encompassing employers and government, while hardliners are pushing for crippling protests.

On Monday, government issued a chilling warning against would-be-demonstrators, saying police would be on high alert to crush any dissent.

Today, Labour minister Sekai Nzenza will address the media in Harare, where she is expected to speak against demonstrations and encourage dialogue.

Yesterday, the main labour union – the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) - told the Daily News that no amount of threats will deter workers from exercising their democratic and constitutional rights.

Japhet Moyo, the union's secretary-general, said government has itself to blame for introducing austerity measures that are only making life miserable for the poor.

"The austerity measures that have been put in place by government have not put bread on our tables, as workers, and thus we are going to take the necessary steps to seek redress," said Moyo.

"The right to demonstrate is a constitutional right that will never be taken away by any person; governments come and go but the laws of the country stay. If they do not amend the Constitution we are going to organise more and more demonstrations to push them to dump neo-liberal policies."

Generally, austerity is both a political and economic term referring to policies that aim to reduce budget deficits through spending cuts, tax increases, or a combination of both.

In Zimbabwe's case, these involve measures aimed at increasing government revenue and cutting back on expenditures by, among other things, shrinking the civil service wage bill.

As part of the austerity measures, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube introduced the much-loathed two percent tax on intermediated financial transactions in a bid to boost government coffers.

While the tax purse has grown, the tax caused prices to go haywire, with the cost of living shooting up to nearly $900 in March.

Workers are crying foul and for a good reason too.

The average salary for a low income earner currently ranges between $350 and $600, which means that the majority of the workforce has been condemned to poverty.

In January, the ZCTU organised a crippling three-day national shutdown that degenerated into chaos, resulting in the death of 16 people from gunshot wounds after the army was deployed to disperse protesters.

Moyo, along with Peter Mutasa - the ZCTU president - were among civic society leaders, political activists and opposition leaders who were arrested by police in a clampdown widely condemned by human rights lobbyists.

The ZCTU leaders are now free men after their cases collapsed in court.

Moyo alleged yesterday that government was sponsoring agent provocateurs to cause chaos during demonstrations in order to justify its heavy-handedness.

"But we are not going to be cowed from exercising our rights; soon we are going to call our members to picket at workplaces, stay away from work and demonstrate," he said.

Once a vibrant workers union with tens of thousands of members, the economic recession of the past two decades has seen ZCTU's membership decline, as more and more companies close shop, while others scale down operations.

The few who are still employed are struggling to make ends meet, while also failing to access adequate healthcare.

Even as the country today marks Workers Day, many face a bleak future.

Today's event is being commemorated under the theme "We are at a Crossroads-Unite Fight Neo-liberalism and Austerity".

The theme is a call to workers of Zimbabwe to unite in dealing with a plethora of challenges confronting them.

These include rising prices, inadequate job opportunities, declining occupational safety and social justice and poor pensions.

Jacob Mafume, the spokesperson for the MDC, hit out at government yesterday for issuing threats that undermine the right to demonstrate.

He said: "We don't need green lights for any demonstrations. Demonstrations are a constitutional right, (provided for under) Section 59; it is the person who has a problem with demonstrations who has to indicate what problem he has with the demonstrations. We will continue our peaceful demonstrations as and when we feel like demonstrating."

ZimRights director Okay Machisa said there was need for soberness and adherence to constitutionalism.

He said civil society is a legal establishment which has the constitutional right to organise itself in line with the law.

"We cannot stop playing our roles as civil society; our role is to warn the government of the need to observe certain rights and also civil education," he said.
- dailynews
Tags: Mnangagwa,

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