Source: Gloomy economic outlook threatens decent work | The Financial Gazette January 12, 2017
By Christopher Mahove
PROSPECTS of a gloomy economic outlook this year is seen threatening the already precarious decent work situation in Zimbabwe.
Despite having a Decent Work Country Programme, Zimbabwe suffers a huge decent work deficit, which might worsen as the country’s economic health continues to deteriorate.
The International Labour Organisation defines decent work as the aspirations of people in their working lives.
It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment.
A decent work deficit is expressed in the absence of sufficient employment opportunities, inadequate social protection, the denial of rights at work and shortcomings in social dialogue.
These failings provide a measure of the gap between the world of work and the hopes people have for a better life.
Amid predictions of more job losses this year, labour experts predict that the informalisation of the economy could worsen, a development that would exacerbates Zimbabwe’s decent work deficit.
Presently, a paltry 10 percent of the country’s employable population is estimated to be in formal employment, the majority of them being government workers.
With the economy showing very little signs of wading out of the doldrums, thousands more workers would most likely find themselves on the streets, joining a legion of informal traders as many companies would most inevitably struggle to reopen for business this year after the Christmas and New Year holiday break.
Others are most certainly going to further downsize in an effort to prolong their stay in business.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president, Peter Mutasa, said the labour body was disappointed that decent work in the country has regressed instead of moving forward.
“Government has destroyed more jobs than it committed to create. Workers rights are being trampled upon daily and the Zuva Supreme Court ruling drew us back closer to the colonial era where workers virtually had no rights,” he said.
In July 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in the Zuva case that an employer had the right to terminate an employee’s contract on notice.
The ruling saw several employers, including parastatals, rushing to trim their wage bills by terminating contracts for a sizeable number of their employees on three months notices.
The retrenchments only ended after the Labour Act was amended to halt the job carnage.
Mutasa said there was no urgency in government efforts towards providing adequate social protection to those at risk.
He said the persistent and growing poverty levels require urgent interventions in order to secure citizens’ livelihoods and to protect those in need.
“However, there are no policies with real outcomes which we can point out to with satisfaction and hope that they are being formulated or implemented,” said Mutasa.
Without a change in the policy direction, the ZCTU president sees a bleak future for employees as government appears ready to please the Breton Woods institutions at the expense of workers.
“The call for labour market flexibility is growing louder by the day in the corridors of power. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank neo-liberal policies prescriptions anchored on austerity will definitely lead to more decent work deficits, increased unemployment, vulnerability and poverty,” Mutasa concluded.
ZCTU is currently mobilising workers to demand decent work through various processes, among them advocacy and campaigns such as the recent opposition to some provisions of the Special Economic Zones Bill that had to be sent back to Parliament for amendment after President Robert Mugabe refused to sign it into law following the legitimate protests from labour.
ZCTU secretary general, Japhet Moyo, this week said the country still has a long way to go in achieving decent work for its people.
“Decent work deficits are still prevalent because the country does not have comprehensive social security policies. The labour industry is characterised by low wages, poor working conditions, non-payment of wages, unreliable transport systems to various workplaces and failure by government and business to abide by international labour standards,” said Moyo.
The majority of employers in the country, government included, are failing to honour collective bargaining agreements and to pay wages in time, if at all they did pay.
“Generally, the informalisation of jobs creates decent work deficits and the current labour laws allow employers to hire and fire workers because the dispute resolution system is very cumbersome for workers to seek remedies when victimised,” he said.
Labour and Economic Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) economist, Naome Chakanya, said although section 65 of the country’s Constitution clearly spells out workers’ right to decent jobs, government has continued to violet this right.
“The minimum wages continue to lag behind the poverty datum line. A study by LEDRIZ in 2015 revealed that about 82 777 workers are affected by non-payment of wages and salaries. Workers are suffering from wage theft, which is a clear violation of international labour standards as well as national legislation,” she said.
Chakanya said workers must fight for their rights because government and business have their own agendas and would not vouch for them.
International Trade Union Conference (ITUC) deputy general secretary, Wellington Chibebe, said it was difficult for countries with governments with repressive tendencies to achieve decent work.
Chibebe — responsible for trade unions situation in Africa and also responsible for legal, solidarity support, development cooperation, political and civil society relations at the global level — said although decent work was part of the Sustainable Development Goal number eight, which was also part of Agenda 2030 and 2063 for Africa, it was difficult to achieve for as long because there were no set national minimum wages.
Stipulated minimum wages would protect workers from abuse, and if there was no agreed position, there would be no decent work.
Chibebe, who led the trade union delegation to the Financing Development conference in Addis Ababa in 2015 and was among the panelists in the sessions that culminated in the adoption of Agenda 2030, said most countries failed to achieve decent work because they opted for policies that pacified Western investors.
“Arising from the desire for foreign direct investment, corporate greed, and the so called cheap money, most African governments are sacrificing the decent work agenda despite the hype of the 2030 and 2060 agenda,” he said adding: “This is a clear re-introduction of modern day slavery through the back door, which is a shame to say the least.”
The ITUC has identified five countries namely Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Ghana and Zambia as having national minimum wage schedules that are now being used as torchbearers in Africa.