‘Get Ready For A Stayaway,’ the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) General Council has instructed its member organisations.
In a statement last Saturday, ZCTU secretary general Japhet Moyo confirmed that a meeting of the unions’ General Council has resolved to defy a possible state backlash and fight to secure living wages.
‘The ZCTU’s General Council, the highest decision making body in between Congress, met on 20 July 2019 to receive reports on the state of preparedness towards action against poverty, and the deteriorating and unstable macro-economic environment,’ said Moyo.
ZCTU president Peter Mutasa and Moyo last week said they’d received bullets and letters threatening them with death if they go ahead with the stayaway.
The main labour group has had run-ins with the armed forces of the state recently for organising demonstrations against poor wages and living conditions.
A stayaway called by the ZCTU in January this year erupted into a mass political uprising which received a brutal military response, leading to the deaths of at least 17 striking workers at the hands of the state.
ZCTU leaders were later arrested and charged with treason – the charges are still pending.
Since that time, ZCTU has taken a cautious stance when organising demonstrations and has kept everything under wraps.
However, the labour group’s leaders met last Saturday and took another defiant stand, vowing to proceed with the job action.
Moyo said: ‘The general council reiterated its call for wages and salaries to be paid in United States dollars or its equivalent at the obtaining interbank exchange rates.
‘They also resolved to continue mobilising, and reaffirmed the call for a general strike at a date to be announced soon.
‘We therefore urge all workers to remain ready for the impending stayaway.’
On top of their salary demands, the ZCTU wants government to reverse its recent decision to outlaw the use of the multi-currency system and also wants government to pay wages in US dollars.
The economic situation in Zimbabwe has worsened recently, rendering it practically impossible for workers across all sectors to earn sufficient salaries and sustain their families.
The rise in fuel prices has had knock-on effects on the prices of basic goods and services, worsening the impact of the already depreciating exchange rate on the general level of prices.
Since the scrapping of the multicurrency, despite government propaganda, prices have remained high beyond the reach of many, while inflation continues to rise.
The General Council reiterated its call for wages and salaries to be paid in the US dollar or its equivalent at interbank market rate.
The ZCTU General Council resolved to continue mobilising for a general strike at a date to be announced soon.
ZCTU president Mutasa said on Sunday that the January events and the death threats would not deter them from calling for the stayaway.
He said: ‘The situation is now worse than January 2019. It is also much worse than what we experienced with former president Robert Mugabe in late 2017.
‘We are currently collating data about some of the issues arising like job losses, non-payment of wages, levels of salaries erosion, pension losses etc.
‘Workers are the hardest hit because, despite earning almost nothing, they still have to continue reporting for work, as a result, many workers are borrowing money for transport and some are walking to work.
‘Due to ill-advised policies, prices of goods and services are pegged in US dollars, while salaries have remained in valueless RTGS (Zimbabwean currency).
‘This has resulted in a serious disequilibrium that is hurting workers and the poor citizens.
‘A lot of workers’ families are starving as their salaries are barely sufficient to cater for a one-week food basket.
‘Most families are now affording only one decent meal a day.
‘Schoolchildren are going to school hungry and many without adequate winter clothing.
‘Workers and their families are dying in homes or in public hospitals because they can no longer afford medical care.
‘Drugs are expensive and medical aid schemes are now dysfunctional.
‘A visit to a doctor requires one to borrow a loan for consultation alone because it now costs two or three months’ salary.
‘Many schoolchildren are dropping out or will do so due to failure by their parents to pay school fees. In short, we have a humanitarian crisis of gigantic proportions.
‘We experienced barbaric state brutality in January and we need to ensure that this time around we put in place measures to prevent the same.
‘Part of the delay is, therefore, informed by the need to have conversations with workers on how we can collectively navigate these areas.
‘Again, due to the ever-changing policies and environment, we must carry out wide consultations with workers so that we have a common understanding of the material conditions affecting them.
‘Some trade union leaders, as we witnessed with some celebrating the reintroduction of the Zimbabwe dollar, had a narrow understanding of the situation.
‘They thought once the Zimbabwe dollar was introduced all the problems of the workers would disappear.
‘In fact, some were now more of government spokespersons promoting a policy that hurts workers and that was promulgated without consultations.
‘We, therefore, needed more time to convince the generality of workers, including those being deceived by some leaders, that these policies won’t work for them.
‘Now the majority agrees with our position because of the hardships they are facing.
‘Again, all our projections about the effects of these policies on workers and the poor have been confirmed.
‘Thus any delay we have is necessary for our action to be effective.
‘We are witnessing what we never witnessed even with the Mugabe regime.
‘It is sad that all the hope for a better Zimbabwe we had in November 2017 has been turned into a big disappointment.
‘We now rue the moment we sided with those in power in their factional fight with Mugabe.
‘It is now clear that there was nothing for ordinary citizens, let alone workers, in the events of November 2017.
‘We received threats against us and our families and one can’t believe that this is happening in a supposedly independent Zimbabwe. This, in a much hyped “new dispensation”?
‘At least I am a trade unionist by choice and understand the risks associated with standing up for the poor against brutal regimes.
‘Not that any trade unionist must be harmed, but more fundamentally our families are not involved in any of our duties.
‘How can someone sane threaten to harm our kids?
‘This is unimaginable in any modern civilised society. We demand that the state must guarantee our security.
‘The threats had all the hallmarks of a state operation and we put full responsibility on the state for whatever will happen to us or our families.
‘The motive is not hidden. The government is aware that its policies are failing dismally and that the socio-economic situation is unbearable.
‘The government is aware that its policies are not accepted by the generality of the citizens, hence it has no consent of the citizens.
‘These threats are, therefore, meant to silence workers and the poor citizens from airing their grievances as provided for in the constitution.
‘This is unfortunate because there can only be positive change if there is effective public engagement.
‘We are actually being pushed by the workers who feel that they have no choice than to protest in order for their voice to be heard.
‘Many citizens are suffering and despite the brutality would like to raise their grievances peacefully.
‘Look at how the energy crisis, for instance, is affecting every citizen, the transport situation, the cost of living, poor health services and many other factors.
‘Above all, there is need for serious political, governance, economic and social reforms.
‘It is a mammoth task that requires a government that is not focused on power retention like we currently experience, but one aiming for nation building.’