According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)'s 2019 Global Rights IndexReport, Zimbabwe is among the world’s 10 worst countries for employees. Since attaining its independence, the country has never been clustered together with countries that are perceived to be hostile to trade unionism. It is the first time that the country has found itself in this position majorly due to its treatment of workers and trade union members.
The report has come at a time when Zimbabwean workers are struggling to earn a decent living due to increasing inflation which is almost reaching 100%. The soaring inflation rate has negatively impacted workers salaries so much so that most civil servants have demanded to be paid their salaries in foreign currency. Given the shortage of foreign currency within the country, it is not surprising that the government had declined this demand on the grounds that it is unsustainable.
2019 ITUC Global Rights Index
One factor that has contributed to Zimbabwe being clustered with countries such as Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Turkey which are said to be anti-unionism is its handling of the fuel protests. The 2019 ITUC Global Rights Index notes that Peter Mutasa, the President of Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and his general secretary, Japhet Moyo were taken into custody on 21 and 25 January 2019 and charged with subversion for “mobilising the nation to participate in anti-fuel hike protests”.
Peter Mutasa/Photo credit: NewZimbabwe.com
While the two were released from custody a few days later, they remained under strict release conditions, banned from traveling and forced to check in regularly at the police station. Moyo was even forced to give up the deed to his personal home as a guarantee against skipping bail.
It further notes that the ITUC-Africa general secretary, who had travelled to meet with the ZCTU leadership and the Zimbabwean Ministry of Labour, was later arrested in his hotel room and arbitrarily detained at Harare International Airport.
The report reads in part that:
This year, Zimbabwe fell into a pattern of violent attacks against workers and trade union members. Protests organised by ZCTU on 14-16 January 2019 against a 150% fuel price hike were repressed by state security forces with live ammunition. Twelve workers were killed and 70 sustained gunshot wounds. In total, over 320 persons were injured, while accounts of severe beatings and torture by government forces were reported to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission."
The ITUC general secretary, Sharan Burrow, states that:
Brazil and Zimbabwe are in the ten worst countries for the first time, with the adoption of regressive laws, violent repression of strikes, protests, threats and intimidation of union leaders."
In October 2018, a national protest organised by ZCTU against a financial tax increase and rising prices were violently repressed by police forces. Workers were beaten up and ZCTU Harare offices were cordoned off by 150 policemen. 33 ZCTU members were arrested and charged with “disrupting public order”. If convicted, they face a mandatory ten-year jail term.
It is noted that workers in countries within Zimbabwe’s category are unlikely to get decent salaries, jobs and meaningful protection from the law hence largely fall under the working poor category.
Other African Countries
The report notes that:
- Algeria and Egypt remain dangerous places for trade unionists, as the authorities still seek to quash any attempt at organising an independent labour movement.
- Police brutality reached unprecedented levels in Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe, as security forces fired live ammunition at protesting workers. In Cameroon, a dockers’ strike was brutally repressed by the police. Several dockers were injured, and one protester lost his forearm when he attempted to deflect a grenade thrown by the police. In Zimbabwe, during the brutal repression of worker protests in January 2019, 70 protesters sustained gunshot wounds and 12 workers were killed.
- Authorities and employers increasingly resorted to court bans to curb any attempts at organising strikes in Nigeria, Benin, and Gabon, for example. the government of Burkina Faso, resorted to blanket bans on demonstrations to undermine workers’ rights to peaceful assembly.
A significant number of African trade union leaders were arbitrarily arrested and detained in 2019. In Kenya, the Kenya National Union of Teachers general secretary and other officials were arrested for allegedly inciting nurses to strike at the Kenyatta Hospital.
Kenya Airways, Teachers Service Commission, Kenyatta National Hospital, Bisco Misr, Ceramica, and Majestic are companies in Kenya and Egypt respectively that violate workers' rights.
Burrow further observes that:
Attempts by countries to silence their people in an age of anger against corporations, politicians and governments who have failed to deliver for workers are on the rise."
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