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Zimbabwe: Little to celebrate on workers day

Without labour, nothing is built, nothing prospers, and nothing grows. Wealth, culture, technology, food, furniture, cars, houses, monuments €”the workers have made all these things. All development since the beginning of history has been the result of human labour

Workers across the globe will celebrate International Workers Day tomorrow, 1 May 2012. In Zimbabwe the commemorations come amid growing disenchantment by the country's labour force over poor working conditions, unsustainable remuneration and job losses.

Since the beginning of 2012, workers have raised concerns over the deteriorating socio- economic and political situation in the country which has affected their working conditions. Zimbabwe's economy, once the pride and envy of many African countries experienced gradual descent owing to decades of bad governance by the government of President Robert Mugabe. Successive ill- advised and detrimental policies among them, the chaotic land reform program, war veterans' compensation fund and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) war led to the collapse of the country's once revered economy. Despite the introduction of the multi- currency system in 2009, the majority of Zimbabweans continue living in abject poverty.

Recently, three workers were fired while 19 others were slapped with punitive measures by the Mutare City Council for staging industrial action over the non-payment of their 2011 bonuses, medical aid, funeral policies, pension fund, and life insurance. The council workers also reported that the Council owes over 1 200 workers a total of $550 000 in unpaid bonuses for 2011 at a time when the local authority is allegedly purchasing top of the range vehicles for the management. Six of the workers who participated in the strike were also demoted by a grade each and $280 will be deducted from their salaries for the next 12 months whereas the general hands' monthly $100 grocery allowances were suspended for six months.

Employees of the Mutare City Council are not the only workers who have been demonstrating against unfair labour practices. In April, Medical Air Rescue Services (MARS) and Bulawayo City Council employees embarked on industrial action demanding that their employees pay up outstanding salaries. January 2012 saw the downing of tools by civil servants demanding better remuneration and working conditions. Moreover, Air Zimbabwe employees are embroiled in a bitter struggle for outsanding salaries with their employer. The cash strapped airliner owes its employees USD40 million in unpaid salaries.

Despite commitments made at the establishment of the inclusive government, it seems the government has done little to ease the challenges faced by workers which include low wages, unfair labour practices, violation of fundamental rights, unjustified salary discrepancies and lack of job security. Government has continuously insisted that it has no resources to pay its employees sustainable salaries. However, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability and mismanagement of resources has resulted in the impoverishment of civil servants. Moreover, failure to accelerate economic development continues to affect companies which are cash strapped and unable to adequately pay employees. In addition, the Indigenisation and Empowerment drive could lead to the closure of international companies and ultimately increased unemployment.

As workers commemorate May Day, it is paramount that the government ensures that it insists on the following;

· Wages above the poverty datum line

· the right to organise and freedom of association

· the right to a safe working environment and democracy in the workplace

· an efficient, affordable and reliable transport system

· a review of the taxation system to include the removal of tax on pensions, benefits and retrenchment packages

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