Zimbabwe trade unions ‘itching for mass action’ to be paid in foreign currency

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ZCTU leader PETER MUTASA remonstrates with police outside his union’s offices in Harare during the three-day stay away last year

THE OPPOSITION Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has joined forces with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to push for salaries in United States dollars, with the labour body saying workers are ‘itching for mass action’ and demanding their rights.

MDC leader Nelson Chamisa said on Tuesday the government must act to ensure workers are paid in US dollars under the circumstances as the Zimbabwe dollar experiment has failed to work in the hyperinflationary environment.

‘Pay workers a decent wage in United States dollars,’ Chamisa in an interview.

‘Workers are getting peanuts, they deserve their salaries in US dollars and that should be done.

‘Seeing that government has pegged fuel prices in US dollars, property owners are charging in US dollars, so government cannot escape this one.

‘Government can’t expect to levy people in US dollars, but fail to pay in US dollars, it can’t work and it will not work.’

Chamisa said the MDC would stand in solidarity with workers in whatever action they would do to push government for a living wage.

Chamisa’s party last week revealed that it was joining hands with ‘progressive’ Zimbabweans to mobilise for protests against the deteriorating economic situation in the country under President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The ZCTU leadership recently embarked on a whirlwind tour of provinces to mobilise the union’s membership to take action to join the protests although no dates have been given so far.

ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo said workers were speaking with one voice and itching for mass action to force government into paying them in a stable currency.

‘The workers’ issue is uniform throughout the country. The issue is mainly on Statutory Instrument 142 of 2019, it has to go because it has impoverished them, all our problems,’ Moyo said.

‘They want to be remunerated in a currency that has got value; they don’t believe that what has been peddled as the national minimum wage is the solution.

‘They believe that the best way to go is to adopt a currency that has got value and is stable.’

Moyo said workers preferred being paid in the South African rand or United States dollars.

‘The best way will be to confront government or withdraw our labour,’ he said.

‘Those are two main issues that we want our money in foreign currency, whether it is rand or the American dollar, or we will face off in the streets if that is not done, so we wait to see what happens when we get feedback from government,’ Moyo said.

The ZCTU consulted with its members across the county including Bulawayo, Gweru, Masvingo, Chinhoyi and then Harare, but police blocked them from meeting workers in Mutare.

Moyo revealed that the workers had directed them to get feedback from this week’s meeting of the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF), which brings together government, business and labour, and decide on the next step.

‘We went to our six regions; the objective of the verbal forum was to get the mandate of the people on the current TNF,’ he said.

‘The workers told us that we should go to the TNF as we fought for it for over 20 years and it’s now there and also legislation about it.

‘They also told us to put before the TNF that they want a living wage; a salary based on the interbank rate or be paid in the US dollar or rand. These were made clear by the workers.’

He added: ‘A decision is going to be taken after we hear what is coming from Cabinet and the TNF this week.

‘If Cabinet says nothing, we will call for a stayaway in the next weeks.’

The Zimbabwe dollar, which was re-introduced in June last year, has drastically lost value, pushing prices of basic commodities beyond the reach of many.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT) has announced that Zimbabwe’s annual inflation was, as of February 2020, at 540.16 per cent while the month on month inflation was at 13.52 per cent.

The rate at which inflation rose is alarming considering that annual inflation was 59.39% in February 2019.

Analysts attribute the rise to low production in the country which forces locals, individuals, businesses and government, to import almost everything from other countries.

Workers have slammed Finance and Economic Development Minister Mthuli Ncube’s announcement that he would set up a currency stabilisation task force and also introduce a managed floating rate system.

ZCTU secretary-general, Moyo argued that the value of the Zimbabwe dollar will likely plummet, resulting in inflation and the erosion of workers’ purchasing power.

He said: ‘What the introduction of a managed floating exchange rate system means is that the cartels who have the foreign currency in Zimbabwe will decide to sell at a rate they deem fit and this can escalate to 50, 100 or even 200.

‘Businesses need foreign currency in order for them to import commodities, and if the rate to purchase foreign currency goes up, the prices of basic goods will also go up.

‘As we all know, this will result in the further erosion of salaries … and workers will continue suffering.’

Moyo called for the scrapping of the Zimbabwe dollar and the return of the multi-currency regime or better still the adoption of the rand.

Members of the ZCTU have told the labour body’s leadership to organise a mass stay-away to force the government to address the current economic crisis.

This emerged during a consultative meeting held in Harare, one of many by the labour body to chart the way forward in the wake of the failure by the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF).

The workers told the ZCTU representatives, led by the labour body’s president Peter Mutasa, that they were tired of all talk and no action.

A member of the ZCTU who identified himself as Kumbirai said: ‘What we are seeing is that there is no political will from the government to resolve the current economic hardships we are facing as workers.

‘These challenges started when the government introduced Statutory Instrument (SI) 142 (that outlawed the use of multi-currency and reintroduced the Zimbabwean dollar) which immediately resulted in workers losing their purchasing power.

‘We appreciate the ZCTU leadership for engaging in discussion with the government and business through the TNF, but all talk and no action will not solve our problems as workers.

‘What we are calling for is another massive stay away, bigger than the January 2019 stay away to shake up the government and trigger the appropriate action from this country’s leadership which has failed the worker.’

The TNF meeting on salaries and wages held early last month reached a deadlock, with the government and labour on one side agreeing that there should be a blanket minimum wage while the business pushed for a sectoral approach to the minimum wage.

Another worker Leo Mukanhenge said: ‘What we need now is action. This kind of action should not be the usual where we act alone but should include like-minded people who share the same struggle that we have like those in the informal sector and those fighting for human rights and justice.’

ZCTU member Sharayi Mutema said the current economic crisis is exposing women to abuse at the hands of water barons and other unscrupulous individuals seeking to take advantage of the transport crisis.

‘As women we are saying that we are tired of this situation and we are demanding action.

‘We are encountering all sorts of challenges at work but our struggle is not ending there. After work we struggle to get transport to return home and take care of the family.

‘When we get home we are confronted by yet another challenge – lack of water – and we have to spend hours at long borehole queues just to get water for household use. Therefore we are saying as women enough is enough let us take it to the streets.’

Mutasa acknowledged the concerns raised by workers and said the ZCTU leadership would deliberate on the issues raised and announce a way forward soon.

In January 2019, the ZCTU held a three-day stay away triggered by fuel price increase. This set in motion a protest which government responded to by sending armed forces who cracked down on the protests resulting in 17 civilian deaths and injury of many others.

‘This struggle is not only for those who are employed, but for everyone in Zimbabwe including the unemployed, informal sector and the civil society. The state has failed and this is evidenced by lack of electricity and water, importation of grain, abductions and torture of those who speak out.

‘Today as ZCTU leadership we have heard your call for action. Indeed this is the time to act because if we don’t act as the workers the government will not act for us and neither will business,’ Mutasa said.