Last Updated: Friday, 26 December 2014, 13:50 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Zimbabwe

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Zimbabwe, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd8891717.html [accessed 27 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 12,571,000
Capital: Harare

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Threats: 10
Arrests: 21
Dismissals: 18

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

The ZCTU faced continued police harassment, including a visit to their offices by plain clothes police, the arrest of participants in a Women's Day march and the disruption of a women's education programme. The police also tried unsuccessfully to ban the ZCTU's May Day marches and Zanu-PF youths violently disrupted a ZCTU event. Meanwhile striking teachers faced threats and beatings while farm workers who organised to press for their pay claim found themselves jobless, homeless and facing death threats. A child died as a result.

Background

Police arrested 46 political activists in February and charged them with treason for screening video footage of the protests in Egypt and Libya. Lawyers for those arrested said at least seven had been tortured. A report issued by Amnesty International in May also found there had been increased intimidation, arrest and torture of Human Rights defenders in the country, then a BBC documentary broadcast in August revealed horrific levels of torture by Zimbabwe's security forces in the country's rich Marange diamond fields, including severe beatings and sexual assault.

ZCTU leader Wellington Chibebe left to take up his post as Deputy General Secretary of the ITUC in September.

Trade union rights in law

The labour laws pertaining to trade union rights are lacking. Although private sector workers enjoy freedom of association, public sector workers do not have the right to form and join trade unions, to bargain collectively or to strike. The Registrar has the power to supervise trade union elections and can cancel, postpone, or change the venue of the elections. Furthermore, collective bargaining is not the exclusive prerogative of trade unions, as workers' committees may also bargain at the company level, hence potentially undermining the unions. All collective bargaining agreements must then be approved by the authorities.

The right to strike is also limited, as the procedures that must be exhausted prior to a strike are excessively long. Employers are not prohibited from hiring replacement workers during a strike, and also have the right to sue workers for liability during unlawful strikes. The penalties for participating in an illegal strike include harsh prison sentences of up to five years. Strikes are banned in "essential services", the list of which exceeds the ILO definition. The Minister also has discretionary powers to decide what constitutes an essential service.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

POSA still used to curb trade union activity: Old habits die hard in Zimbabwe where the controversial Public Order and Security Act (POSA) has long been used to prevent or disrupt trade union activity, particularly ZCTU-organised events. In March, for example, the Bulawayo western district police tried to use the POSA to prevent a women's day march, but they were over-ruled by the Magistrate's Court.

Government fails to implement ILO recommendations: A year after the ILO Commission of Inquiry's report "Truth, reconciliation and justice in Zimbabwe", was made public, the government had failed to implement any of its recommendations, despite promising to do so. Those recommendations included the cessation of anti-union arrests, detentions, violence, torture, intimidation and harassment; strengthening of national institutions and social dialogue; training on freedom of association and collective bargaining; civil liberties and human rights; and the reinforcement of the rule of law and the role of the courts, as well as the creation of a Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.

Collective bargaining agreements not implemented: In October a Harare labour lawyer, Arthur Marar said that companies were not honouring collective bargaining agreements, with many employers failing to pay or delaying payment to workers. Furthermore they were failing to disclose full information during negotiations, as required by law.

A policy of restricting peaceful demonstrations: Events in Tunisia and Egypt made the unity government, or at least the Zanu-PF side of it, nervous. The police and the pro-Mugabe Central Intelligence Organisation kept a watchful eye on civil society groups following the North African protests, quickly stepping in to break up any mass gathering with potential to turn into anti-Mugabe mass action. On 29 February a Joint Operations Command (JOC) meeting for Bulawayo took place at which prison, police, army and intelligence bosses agreed that in the wake of the North African protests they would deploy a show of force to dissuade demonstrations. The JOC also reportedly resolved to ban all peaceful gatherings and processions, and sought to apply that policy to ZCTU events among others. When the ZCTU announced the plans for its traditional May Day marches, the police accused it of using the events to stoke violence.

Violations

Police try to prevent May Day marches: In April 2011 the ZCTU notified the police in all 38 Districts of its intention to commemorate International Workers' Day on 1 May. The police banned all processions in Mutare, Harare and Masvingo and took unduly long to respond to letters in other Districts. The ZCTU made an application to the High Court seeking an order to declare police action unlawful and allow commemorations and processions in all 38 Districts. After the High Court granted an order in favour of ZCTU on April 29, the processions went ahead in most cities except in Masvingo, where the police defied the High Court Order and maintained their ban on the procession.

Police ban peaceful demonstration by bank employees: On 18 May the ZCTU reported that the police had instructed the Zimbabwe Banks and Allied Workers' Union (ZIBAWU) to suspend its plans for a peaceful demonstration "until further notice", just a few days after initially approving plans for the protest against low pay and poor working conditions. The Harare Central District Police claimed the reason for suspending the march was that 'certain political parties would want to take advantage of the gathering at Stanbic Bank to engage in political violence.'

Dismissals and death threats for farmworkers who tried to organise:

At the beginning of the year, workers at the Bemba Farm in Marondera found themselves being summarily dismissed and thrown off the farm at night by Zanu PF youths after engaging in union activities. The farm's 700 workers had been pressing for the national employment council approved agro-wage of USD80 a month, rather than the USD55 a month they were being paid as "general" agricultural workers. In late 2010, they formed their first workers committee with the help of trade unionists, but the farm owner responded by dismissing all those involved.

One employee, Guidance Chiper, said Zanu PF youths took him away on a rainy day and dumped him with his family and his belongings by the road side. Both people and belongings got soaked and his one-year-old child died a few days later. Another employee, Johannes Mfiri said he was sacked on 4 January for encouraging workers to join the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers' Union (GAPWUZ). Other employees said many have been affected in a similar way, with the union confirming they had already dealt with 18 such cases.

Meanwhile a man named Cleopas Kundiona whose company provides security services at the farm, threatened that those seen going to the unions would be drowned in a nearby dam, in a repetition of what happened to many people in 2008, another employee said. The unionists said they had also received death threats from Kundiona whom they alleged presided over the "throwing away" of workers. Kundiona, who claims to be spokesperson and legal advisor to Francois Smit, owner of the farm, said unionists were manipulating the workers, and that the farm had sued the Gapwuz union, their representatives and some of the workers for USD1,114,500 as compensation for damages caused during an" illegal" strike organised in 2010.

Police harassment of ZCTU continues: On the morning of 3 March the ZCTU headquarters were visited by three plain clothes police detectives. They demanded a list of the ZCTU Executive members and any 'new information' that they might need to know about the organisation.

Police disrupt ZCTU-organised women's march and arrest participants: When the ZCTU notified the police of its intention to commemorate International Women's Day on 8 March with a procession, permission was refused claiming that the ZCTU had not complied with all sections the Public Order and Security Act. However the Magistrates Court of Bulawayo ordered that the commemoration and procession could go ahead as planned. The police ignored that order and, dressed in riot gear and wielding batons, disrupted the event and arrested 19 trade union members including a pregnant woman. Three of the women were forced to remove their ZCTU T-shirts, and were left in the centre of Bulawayo in just their bras, until sympathisers leant them clothes to cover themselves up with. A group of about 20 police officers invaded the venue for the procession and did not permit participants to gather; another group of 17 raided the ZCTU Bulawayo offices and ordered people to disperse.

Police disrupt ZCTU women's programme:

Police disrupted a civic education programme for women organised by the ZCTU in Gwanda at the beginning of April. Towards the end of the morning programme, the police arrived and demanded to be allowed to attend the workshop. The ZCTU officials explained the purpose of the training and told the police that they could not allow them to attend, and that there was no legal requirement for them to do so. The police then took the two facilitators to the station where they were interrogated. The ZCTU officers maintained their position and the police responded by banning the workshop. When the facilitators went back to the venue, the owners of the hotel could not allow them to proceed since the police had already threatened the hotel management. The workshop was therefore abandoned midway.

In Beitbridge a police officer claiming to be from the President's Office wanted to attend a training session of the same programme taking place there, but after explanations from the ZCTU officials that they would not allow him in, he left and no further disturbances were experienced.

Victimisation of workers at Stanbic Bank: In May the ZCTU publicly expressed concern at the continued victimisation of workers at Stanbic Bank by the bank's top management in response to the Zimbabwe Banks and Allied Workers' Union (ZIBAWU) plans to take industrial action. Some workers were unilaterally transferred after they were deemed too militant and Workers' Committee meetings were banned. The union explained that the reason they were taking action was that top management had failed to address or even listen to workers' grievances while awarding themselves very generous allowances. The ZCTU reported that the top manager at the bank took home more than $140 000 as a production bonus in the month of March 2011, while refusing to listen to workers' demands for a 30% salary adjustment. The ZCTU called on the Ministry of Finance to investigate the situation at the bank and in the financial sector in general.

Militia and CIO harass striking teachers: The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) reported that their members were being harassed in some areas for taking part in strike action that started on 22 June. PTUZ President, Takavafira Zhou, told SW Radio Africa that youth militia, intelligence agents and school heads aligned with ZANU PF, were intimidating teachers and making threats. "Our teachers were beaten by rogue militia in Rushinga and there have been serious threats in Mberengwa, Gokwe and Mashonaland South," Zhou said. He added that officers from the Central Intelligence Organisation had visited PTUZ offices around the country.

The union said the strike was intended to press the government to commit to a time frame for concluding salary negotiations. Despite having met with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Robert Mugabe and the Ministry for Public Service, asking for salaries equal to the Poverty Datum Line, teachers had still not received the salary increases they were promised by the President. The government had proved reluctant to remove 75,000 "ghost workers" on the payroll who were using up money that could have contributed to civil servants wages. The union was also promised that revenue from the sale of diamonds would be used to improve wages, but that was not done either. The PTUZ suspected political leaders of pilfering the money from diamond sales. The PTUZ president also accused the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA), of being run by officials closely linked to ZANU PF, and alleged that some had been discouraging PTUZ members from participating in the strike.

The dispute was finally resolved, at least partially, through a package deal for civil servants negotiated by the APEX council. (see above).

Police bar ZCTU march: The police turned down an application by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to hold a commemoration against police brutality in Kuwadzana on Saturday 17 September, and warned that they would clamp down on demonstrators should they defy the directive. In the letter from the Chief Superintendant, it was claimed that the march "may be hijacked by political malcontents and criminals and degenerate into violence," . The commemorations have been held since 2007 to mark the police brutality of 2006 when they descended on demonstrating workers and arrested over 200 of them in a countrywide swoop.

Zanu-PF youths disrupt ZCTU meeting: Zanu-PF youths violently disrupted a ZCTU meeting on 22 September as it was being addressed by Lovemore Matombo and Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) leader Raymond Majongwe. A group of 20 Zanu-PF youths led by Andrew Manjoro, Bulawayo youth provincial secretary for Economic Affairs, stormed the ZCTU meeting venue at the Royal Hotel carrying iron bars and stones.

They claimed they had booked the same venue for their own meeting, and refused to leave when Majongwe appealed to them to respect other people's meetings. After being forced out by meeting participants, the Zanu-PF youths gathered outside the hotel and started chanting liberation songs. Manjoro urged the Zanu-PF youths to wait until the ZCTU meeting ended so that they could beat up the labour union members, especially Majongwe. The youths refused to leave even after riot police arrived, but were finally persuaded to do so after the Zanu-PF Bulawayo provincial executive leader, Godfrey Malaba came to the venue to persuade them to disperse.

Government interference into teachers' unions affairs: In September the government announced that it wanted to investigate the operations of all teachers' unions in the country. The reason for the investigation was apparently the thousands of dollars that the teachers unions received in membership fees from their members. Yet as the ZCTU noted, there was nothing to indicate that any of the funds had been misused. The unions felt that the government's move was an attempt to divert attention from the real issue of addressing and improving conditions of service for the teachers.

Government breaks promises on civil servants pay rise: The government's promise of a significant pay rise for civil servants that led them to call off their industrial action in late 2010 failed to materialise. In January civil servants' unions called for a pay rise that would put salaries on a par with the average family shopping basket, about US$500 a month, but the government's offer of an 18% to 26% rise fell far short of this, leaving lower paid civil servants with about US$160 a month. The government claimed it simply did not have the money for more, although government ministers managed to award themselves a 200% pay rise. The rises were supposed to have been funded by revenues from diamond exports, but there were suspicions that ZANU-PF was siphoning off that money. Both private employers, fearing the consequences for their forthcoming pay bargaining rounds, and the IMF, put heavy pressure on the government not to give in the civil servants' demands.

At the end of June the government finally awarded civil servants an all-inclusive minimum salary of US$253. There was, however, no reintroduction of rural and education allowances. The increase, described as "provisional" by the trade unions' umbrella body the Apex council, fell far short of civil servants demands, but did help defuse mounting anger. The Apex council said they would continue to fight until they had reached the Poverty Datum Line threshold.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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