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Trade union leaders beaten and arrested during Zimbabwe austerity protests

11 October, 2018Police have beaten and arrested two leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), as thousands of workers took to the streets in cities across Zimbabwe on 11 October to protest against austerity measures. 

In an attempt to stop a march from taking off in Harare, the police surrounded the offices of the ZCTU, beating up and arresting the federation’s president Peter Mutasa and secretary general, Japhet Moyo, according to unions. About 20 protesting workers were arrested in Mutare and 13 in Masvingo.

Five IndustriALL Global Union affiliates took part in the marches in solidarity with other unions.

Recently, the Zimbabwean government announced monetary and fiscal policies to remedy the economy arguing that the reforms were “painful and necessary”. But the opposite happened as the economy nose-dived. The austerity policies are wiping out the value of wages and workers can no longer afford basic necessities

Following announcements to increase taxes on mobile money transactions to two per cent per dollar, and that bank deposits made in US dollars would now be converted to local currency, people went into panic mode buying basic goods out of fear of the return of hyper-inflation. Food prices skyrocketed as goods disappeared from the shelves. Businesses closed for “stock taking” and “renovations” or simply increased prices for their goods and services. 

While the government maintains that the exchange rate for the local currency to the US dollar is 1:1, the reality is that on the parallel market one US dollar is 4.85 Zimbabwe dollars, called bond notes. This makes the panic understandable. In 2008 workers lost wages including pensions when their retirement benefits and savings could not even buy a loaf of bread due to hyperinflation.

Says Christian Ranji, secretary for the IndustriALL Zimbabwe Youth Committee: “Workers have no option but to fight austerity. We can’t be taxed to fund wasteful government spending. Companies are closing, and workers losing jobs. The announcement caused instability as grocery shops increased prices and citizens started buying in bulk to get value for their money.”

Valter Sanches, IndustriALL General Secretary, says:

“We call upon the government of Zimbabwe to respect the rights of workers to protest against the austerity measures and condemn the acts of violence and intimidation. The arrest of the ZCTU leadership, comrades Peter Mutasa and Japhet Moyo, and the protesting workers is unacceptable. We call for their immediate release, and for the government to seek social dialogue with the unions.”