BY SILAS NKALA
Hand to mouth are the words which most formally employed workers use to describe their predicament as they go about their duties on a daily basis, only to get money they spend in one day without meeting the demands of their families after a month of hard work.
Some are going for months without pay while others are failing to get salary and wage increases at a time the cost of basic goods and transport fares has skyrocketed.
Others have to contend with possible job losses as companies scale down operations and offload employees.
According to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), in January this year, an estimated 13 000 people in the western region lost their jobs in the past 12 months.
The ZCTU’s western region caters for workers in Bulawayo, Matabeleland South and North.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government had last year ahead of the July 30 elections promised citizens more jobs if they were voted into power, alas the opposite, according to the labour movement, has happened and is escalating as the government fails to curb economic meltdown.
Urgent Moyo, a teacher based in Gwanda, says the situation in Zimbabwe is dire as they bear the brunt of escalating costs.
“All workers have tested positive to poverty, including me. We have been reduced to slaves merely working for food, which is not enough and poorly, for that matter,” he said.
“It has become very difficult for me as a worker to make ends meet because the RTGS$ is losing value against real money like US dollar, rand or pula.”
“As for the prospects of industry and other sectors of the economy, I foresee further degeneration unless something is done to change the current trajectory that the economy has taken.
“There is need to arrest corruption that is rampant in the corridors of government as well as eradicating the hanky-panky displayed by those controlling the economy of this country.”
Moyo said Zimbabwe was endowed with resources of various forms and value including human resources, but lacked management and political will to change the situation for the better.
“Workers also need to organise themselves so that they seriously confront the employers, especially the government so that they bring better offers on the table for workers,” he added.
“Since labour and capital are strange bedfellows, it therefore means that workers should not wait for the employers to organise something better for them because that will be daydreaming.”
Workers at Progress Mine in Filabusi, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said their morale was low due to non-payment of salaries for quite a long time and increasingly poor working conditions.
“Workers here are suffering, especially those who work underground, they are not even provided with protective clothing,” said a worker.
“Going to work on an empty stomach for so long and having to endure leaving your family hungry with children unable to go to school because the breadwinner has not been paid is stressful and traumatic.”
The workers said the company delays paying them and the situation seems to be worsening since the new government came into power.
“We are now being chased away from lodgings because of failing to pay rentals at Filabusi Centre due to non-payment of our wages in time,” fumed another worker.
The workers said when the new government took over from the Robert Mugabe administration, they had hoped that things would change for the better, but their hope was dissipating .
Workers in the chemical, plastic and allied industries, which manufacture chemicals, rubber and pharmaceutical products, said the industry was fast collapsing such that soon most of them could be out of employment if nothing was done as a matter of urgency.
“Just imagine going to work when you have not been paid for two months or so, it’s obvious one will be demoralised. Just ask yourself what kind of production such a worker will make when he or she is disgruntled,” said a worker who asked not to be named.
The workers said besides either not being paid for too long or being paid very late after their wages have been eroded by inflation, the companies had no money to order the raw materials to use in the production, a development which has forced some of the companies to either close shop or scale down operations.
Some of the companies that fall under the chemical, plastics and allied industries are ZimPharm, Rubber Products, and Dunlop Industries, among a host of them.
Also textile firms such as Textile Mills, National Blankets among many others are facing serious operational challenges with the National Blankets judicial management having been confronted by the disgruntled workers, who recently staged a demonstration at the company premises accusing the management of destroying the company by frustrating investors.
The workers complained that they were struggling to meet their obligations at home and at work because of failure by the company to pay them.
One of the workers said they had been turned into slaves who work without benefit. The workers said some of their colleagues had since died before the company could pay their terminal benefits.
“If they want to terminate our contracts, they should follow the right channels,” another employee said.
“Some workers have died, leaving their children in abject poverty. It’s very sad,” said one worker during a recent demonstration at the firm.
“We want our dues cleared. They should negotiate a package with us because we cannot go home empty-handed.”
ZCTU western region chairman Ambrose Sibindi said the so-called new dispensation was just a slogan just as empty as Zimbabwe is open for business.
“But the reality is that industry in Bulawayo operates around 20% of the potential capacity taking into consideration company closures, retrenchments and scaling down of operations,” Sibindi said.
“The few workers still at work, the majority of them are on contract or are subject to all kinds of abuse and they just give in to save their jobs and the invasion of Asian companies has brought more misery than joy as such companies have no respect for Zimbabwe labour laws and do the unimagined (including) physical assault of employees.”
Sibindi said the worst sectors affected by job losses include clothing, transport, textiles and furniture, among others, because they were still using obsolete machinery.
He said Bulawayo was also hit hard by company closures.
“For instance, in 2014 we were talking of 20 000 employees that lost their jobs, in 2017 we were talking of 35 000 people, ” he said.
Bulawayo has been experiencing massive de-industrialisation since 2009 as thousands of companies closed shop while some relocated to Harare.
These include Merlin, David Whitehead Limited, Textile Mills, Belmore Manufacturers and Ascot Clothing. National Blankets and Security Mills are under judicial management while Cold Storage Company, National Railways of Zimbabwe, Dunlop Zimbabwe and Archer Clothing have down-sized, leaving thousands jobless.