Issue date
13 Sep 2010

Speech by Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions second Deputy Secretary General, Gideon Shoko to the TUC Congress

Monday 13 September, TUC Congress in Manchester.

Gideon ShokoOn this the occasion of the TUC's Congress, the ZCTU and its Affiliates send their warmest solidarity greetings. We are inspired by your eagerness and swift action in aiding the working people of Zimbabwe fight for total freedom and democracy. It has not been a lonely struggle for us because of friends like you.

The long struggle for the people of Zimbabwe is not over but has only just peaked hence our calls to you our long time friends, to continue and even augment the solidarity that you have afforded us.

A window of opportunity opened with the coming in of the unity government. So many people had hung to the hopes of an improved economic and political situation but those hopes are fast fading and the people are now at a crossroads.

The formation of the coalition government was not the ideal situation for the people of Zimbabwe hence ZCTU made its views on this matter known.

Trade unions were pushing for a Neutral Transitional Authority to run the country instead of a coalition government.

We ask ourselves - how could the downtrodden and abused go into coalition with the perpetrator? Not surprisingly, since inception, the coalition government has been sounding distress signals with conflicting public pronouncements on various issues on a weekly basis.

The formation of the unity government has not brought much relief to the ordinary worker or Zimbabwean.

The average worker in industry or the public sector earns about a third of what a family of six requires for a reasonable standard of living.

For a farm worker the situation is far worse, with most earning a tenth of what they need in a sector which is dominated by the ZANU PF elite who are not willing to negotiate with GAPWUZ, the farm workers' union.

Workers and the population at large, where they can, are surviving by selling whatever they can get their hands on, just to cover the most basic necessities.

This leaves workers with a harsh choice: What do they pay for and what do they drop? Should they pay for their children's schooling? or for electricity or water? Or maybe for medicine or their transport to work?

The reality for most workers is that some of these essentials will have to be sacrificed, the quandary is which ones?

The unemployment rate is 90% and so most people have been accommodated by the informal sector. Only 10% of people are formally employed while 90 percent of the 14 million Zimbabweans are living in absolute poverty.

However, government has neither made any policy interventions to nurture the informal economy nor officially recognized the important role the sector is playing in keeping Zimbabwe going.

ZCTU has taken the initiative through its affiliate, the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA) to organise the sector and push for policy interventions that recognise the informal economy.

Capacity utilisation remains below 35% with industrial production and performance limited by chronic electricity and water cuts.

Throughout industry you will find examples of workers who haven't been paid for six months, in my own union, railway workers are being paid sporadically, one month they might get half their salary and then be forced to wait another two months for the other half.

How can workers live day to day in this situation, let alone plan for the future?

The retail sector is thriving as shop shelves have filled with South African and other regional produce but sadly this has not made any difference to the pay packets of most shop workers. Salaries remain dangerously low, with employers arguing overheads swallow up all of their profits.

This argument is not unique to the retail sector with both industry and government arguing that there is no cash to pay their workers.

The country is facing a cash flow problem that is severely affecting the operations of trade unions.

When the multi-currency system was introduced in February 2009, all the savings that the ZCTU and its affiliates had, were wiped away meaning we had nothing and we had to start all over.

It was also the time when workers were earning minimal allowances hence unions were not receiving any dues and in turn the ZCTU also received nothing.

When workers started earning salaries in June 2009, the country was already facing a cash flow problem and employers were unable to remit union dues. This put a strain on union financial resources and ZCTU and its affiliates survived on support from fraternal trade unions.

This situation still prevails today as employers are still not remitting union dues and ZCTU affiliates are owed thousands of dollars by employers. It is therefore sadly not an exaggeration to say that without resource support from other trade unions worldwide, ZCTU and its affiliates would not be in existence as we speak.

Currently, government has embarked on constitutional reform - a process that ZCTU is not part of. Our point of departure with government is on the process - ZCTU believes in participatory democracy while government wants representative democracy.

People should be given a chance to author their own constitution.

Instead, the Executive is leading the process with active participation of political party leadership and a limited role for other democratic forces like civic society, churches and trade unions.

Feedback from the current consultations on the constitution confirm our concerns, particularly when we regularly hear that in fact ordinary Zimbabweans are too intimidated to really speak their minds and those that do have later been threatened or worse by ZANU-PF affiliated militia.

Lastly, the support and encouragement by the TUC, gives inspiration to the ZCTU as a whole, to keep on fighting for workers rights and instils the belief that with more people of your character and determination on your side, victory in the struggle for the workers' cause is certain.

We commend our brothers and sisters of the TUC and its affiliates for their vision, courage and determination in helping promote and defend the rights of workers in Zimbabwe.

I thank you.