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‘Workers’ Day has lost meaning’

In a normal economy, today would be Workers’ Day, but given the economic woes, it can aptly be referred to as a Vendors’ Day.

BY XOLISANI NCUBE

At its economic peak, Zimbabwe had over two million workers contributing millions of dollars to the gross domestic product. But today less than 500 000 are still formally employed while over two million, including university graduates, have become vendors or are doing one odd job or another in the informal sector.

In the past, people’s success was measured by their level of education, but today it is about how tactful one is to earn a living as many graduates have turned to hustling to put food on the table.

At the peak of the country’s labour market, the National Railways of Zimbabwe alone employed over 50 000 people. Today, the few who are still employed are on strike as the nation marks 2016 Workers’ Day, protesting against non-payment of salaries.

Economist John Robertson said unpaid salaries and a fast-growing informal sector reflected how the economy had crumbled.

“There are no workers to talk about. It is a situation the State must be reflecting on, but it seems no one has a clue of how to solve the problem. Everyone is a vendor — an employer because of the ill-advised policies our government has embarked on,” Robertson said.

Government claims that only 11% are unemployed, arguing that those in the informal sector were actually in proper employment. But labour unions and the international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, among others, put the unemployment level at above 80%.

Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said May Day was now meaningless as there were no workers to talk about anymore.

“It is a sad tale we are faced with that we have youths who have never worked in their lives. Some have even grown to be family men, but do not know a payslip. This is a reality which this May Day is greeted by,” Mandaza said.

As the two main labour bodies gather at Gwanzura and Rufaro Stadium to commemorate this day, politics will dominate the event, says Eldred Masunungure, a political science lecturer with the University of Zimbabwe.

“Political parties want to dominate and control this day for political mileage. Government wants to appear as if they care for the few who are working, hence, they are tussling to organise this day. The focus should be on how to create more jobs and not to control crumbs,” Masunungure said.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) secretary-general Japhet Moyo said today’s event was special as it reminded the working community that it was under siege as the capitalist sought to manipulate them through non-payment of salaries and labour market flexibility.

“For a few of those still working, this is a time to re-organise and re-strategies in the face of increasing onslaught from greedy manipulative people.

“We have workers who have gone for months without salaries and a government that has failed to deliver on its mandate and promises. We are faced with a system that seeks to expose people to abuse through the proposed Special Economic Zones Bill as those who will be employed under these sectors will not be covered by the labour law,” Moyo said.

He added: “This is the reason why government wants to hijack this day. How can the devil organise a dinner for God’s children who are protesting against it? We smell a rat in this move. It seems government wants to railroad the workers into agreeing to its diabolic move of manipulation and slavery. We will not be fooled.”

Labour minister Prisca Mupfumira will join the Zimbabwe Federations of Trade Unions — an organisation with strong links with the ruling Zanu PF — in marking this global day at Rufaro Stadium. The ruling party was reportedly mobilising thousands of unemployed people to attend the event.

The ZCTU on the other hand, will hold its commemorations at Gwanzura Stadium where opposition leader and former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai is expected to attend.

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