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Zimbabwe: Unions organizing against all odds

18 October, 2017To be effective in the fight for workers’ rights, Zimbabwean workers must join trade unions, emphasized the IndustriALL Global Union women’s committee meeting in Harare on 13 October.

It is through organizing more workers that unions can build the power to confront employers on workers’ rights violations including the late payment of wages, gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

Reports on the union building project’s organizing and recruitment drives by women organizers from seven IndustriALL affiliates in chemicals, energy, garment and textiles, engineering, metal, mining, and automotive highlighted not only the achievements but the difficulties as well.

During membership drives to workplaces the importance of joining unions, workers’ rights, health and safety and social protection were discussed. Gender policies were also developed.

The meeting discussed how organizing was badly affected by the current political and economic crisis. The crisis, which reached its peak in 2008, led to the collapse of most industrial sectors. Hyperinflation reached record levels and the local currency was abandoned. Unemployment is estimated to be around 90 per cent with most workers now working in the informal sector.

Most industries in Zimbabwe have shut down, reduced working hours or were retrenching workers. For workers who still have jobs, pay day was anything from one month to more than 12 months. Some employers only paid 25 per cent of wages. Other benefits like medical aid and pension did not exist.

Although union dues were collected from workers, sometimes these were not paid to unions according to the laws. This worsened union finances.

The affiliates vowed to continue fighting against the irregular payment of wages by most employers. According to a Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe report, wage theft was common.

“This failure to pay what workers are legally entitled to is wage theft in that it involves employers taking money that belongs to their employees and keeping it for themselves. This is a clear violation of international labour standards, as well as national legislation on the employment of workers.”

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions was campaigning against wage theft, which has affected over 120,000 workers.

Angeline Chitambo, president of the Zimbabwe Energy Workers Union and IndustriALL Sub Saharan regional co-chairperson said the women’s committee played “a very critical role in mobilizing women's participation and activism in trade unions” and “in the fight against globalization and neoliberalism in all its forms”.

Fabian Nkomo, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa said:

“It is unacceptable for employers not to pay wages on time. We will continue to support the women’s committee in its efforts to end such exploitation of the workers.