135 workers at Zimbabwe’s state owned utility, ZESA have been suspended indefinitely without pay and benefits on 17 July after a threatened strike on 10 July 2012. Hearings for these workers, which by law should take place within 14 days of their suspension, have been continually postponed and are now scheduled to begin on 16 August 2012.
The Zimbabwe Energy Workers Union (ZEWU) says that the postponements are an attempt to frustrate workers and starve them into submission. At a meeting between the union and ZESA on Friday 3 August, ZESA attempted to trade off the reinstatement of suspended workers in exchange for workers abandoning the wage increase gained through an arbitration award. This is tantamount to economic blackmail and an attempt to intimidate workers to concede their rightful gains.
Even with the wage increases, workers of the lowest pay grade, that are entitled to a wage increase from US$190 to US$275, would be earning way below the poverty datum line. The poverty datum line is a figure calculated by the Zimbabwe Consumer Council that assists in deciding how much a person needs in order to sustain a reasonable livelihood for 2011 was US$520.
The President of Zimbabwe Energy Workers Union (ZEWU), Angeline Chitambo, is amongst those that have been suspended along with two other elected officials of the union, Tariro Shumba and Dennis Mukote. They face different charges to the rest of the workers, singled out for carrying out their trade union leadership responsibilities. The hearing for Angeline Chitambo, who is also a member of the Executive of IndustriALL, has been postponed until 28 August.
ZESA is also putting pressure on workers and their union through legal proceeding. The utility made a court application seeking relief against 132 workers it suspended resulting in a show cause order being issued to workers to appear before the court and explain why the court should not take action against them. In addition to this, ZESA is appealing the arbitration at the High Court on the basis that the arbitrator was not impartial and favoured the union.
IndustriALL General Secretary, Jyrki Raina, has sent a letter to ZESA calling for the reinstatement of all suspended workers and implementation of the bargaining agreement and raised the issue with the Zimbabwe embassy in Geneva. Broader support is urgently needed and IndustriALL is appealing to affiliates for solidarity support of suspended workers and their union. A sample letter is available for affiliates to send to ZESA to apply additional pressure.