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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zimbabwe

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zimbabwe, 11 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52cabc1a.html [accessed 23 November 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: 13,300,000
Capital: Harare
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Trade union violations deteriorated further and reached an extremely violent pitch during the period of the elections. One trade unionist was assassinated, whilst several were tortured, women activists were sexually assaulted and dozens of unionists were arrested and/or beaten. The main union leaders have been frequently arrested and threatened.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association – "draconian" legislation: The Labour Relations Act (LRA) gives private sector workers freedom of association, the right to elect their own representatives, and to join unions without prior authorisation. It allows for multiple unions per industry, provided that each is registered with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare (MPSLSW).

The LRA gives the Registrar the power to supervise the election of officers of workers' and employers' organisations, to cancel or postpone elections and to change the venue of an election.

Organising is allowed in export processing zones (EPZs).

LRA removes trade union rights for public sector workers: The LRA excludes public sector workers from protection under labour laws by placing them under the Public Service Act, which does not provide for the right to form and belong to trade unions, collective bargaining, strikes or alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

Collective bargaining – agreements subject to government approval: The LRA recognises the right to collective bargaining. However, Articles 25, 79 and 81 of the Act give the Minister of Labour the power to approve collective bargaining agreements, register and publish them – contrary to promises made by the government at the International Labour Conference in June 2004 that these Articles would be repealed. The Act also states that collective bargaining agreements should provide for measures to combat workplace violence. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) believes this could be used to criminalise industrial action.

Collective bargaining is not the exclusive prerogative of trade unions, as workers' committees may also bargain at company level. The law encourages the creation of these committees in enterprises where less than 50 per cent of workers are unionised. They exist in parallel with trade unions, hence creating the potential for employers to undermine the unions by pitting the workers' committees against them. Their role is to negotiate on shop floor grievances, while trade unions are supposed to focus on industry level issues, notably wages, and negotiate through National Employment Councils – where they exist. The workers' committees meet with representatives of the management to discuss workplace issues in a Works Council.

Works Councils have to be approved by the Ministry of Labour. The National Employment Councils must submit their agreements to the Registrar for his or her approval, and they can be vetoed if they are deemed harmful to the economy.

If 50 per cent or more of employees are union members, there is no parallel body, as the workers' committee becomes the trade union committee.

Barriers to the right to strike: Although the LRA recognises the right to strike, there are many procedural hurdles, such as the fact that more than 50 per cent of the employees must vote for a strike, followed by a 30-day conciliation period and possible referral to binding arbitration and then a 14-day advance notice period. The sum effect of all these delaying tactics is that it is practically impossible to organise a legal strike. The Act does not include provisions to prohibit employers from hiring replacement workers in the event of a strike, and also includes a section that enables employers to sue workers for liability during unlawful strikes, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment, or both.

Strikes are prohibited in essential services. The definition of "essential" goes far beyond that envisaged by the ILO, and includes railway engineers, electricians, transport and communications' employees, veterinary services and pharmacies. The Minister can decide what constitutes an essential service, and so declare that any service or industry is essential and thus impose a strike ban. Those taking part in an illegal strike face harsh prison sentences of up to five years.

Repressive legislation: The 2002 Public Order and Security Act (POSA) bans any public gatherings held without police permission. This has been used to obstruct trade union activities and harass trade unionists. Under the Act, people found guilty of disturbing the peace, security or public order, or of invading the rights of other people, are liable to a maximum Z$100,000 fine and/or imprisonment for up to ten years. In addition, organisers of public gatherings must apply for permission at least four days in advance.

The reformed Penal Code of 2006 is also often used to arrest and imprison trade unionists.

The Miscellaneous Offence Act carries less severe penalties. It is often used when charges of a public order offence cannot stand up in court. Blocking a public thoroughfare, for example, is an offence under this Act.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: During the Parliamentary elections in March, a wave of violence and intimidation, orchestrated by the party of President Robert Mugabe, ZANU-PF, forced the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), to withdraw, shortly before the second round, though it had just won the first round. Although a power-sharing agreement was signed between the two parties in September, the political situation remained stagnant. At the end of the year the country faced a very serious economic and humanitarian crisis, with a cholera epidemic having already caused over 1,500 deaths.

Intimidation, interference and frequent banning or prevention of meetings: In practice, members of independent trade union organisations face harassment from government forces and the ZANU-PF militia. It is extremely difficult for them to carry out any trade union activities. Although the High Court ruled in April 2002 that the ZCTU does not need permission from the police to hold private meetings, the police have continued to interfere with its meetings. In the town of Gweru (Midlands), the authorities refused the ZCTU permission to organise a march on 8 March to commemorate International Women's Day. Some trade union offices were forced to shut down owing to threats and violence.

"Illegal" strikes: The excessively complicated mechanisms for organising a legal strike means that many unions give up trying to organise a legal strike and instead resort to "illegal" stoppages, stay-aways or protest actions. In February, for instance, members of the Commercial Workers' Union of Zimbabwe (CWUZ) representing the staff of Kingstons Limited, a quasi-public company, were obliged to sleep at their workplace in order to get their wage demands heard. Their employer threatened them with disciplinary measures and accused the leader of the protest, Wilfred Nyamukuva, of passing on "confidential" information, i.e., regarding their wage levels, to the press.

Splinter unions: The Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU) is a government-created labour body designed to undermine and weaken the ZCTU. The ZFTU works closely with the ruling ZANU-PF and has created splinter unions in every sector of the economy. In some cases ZFTU unions have coerced workers, telling them they have to join their union if they want to keep their jobs. In 2008, as before, the ZCTU reported that some of its members were assaulted for wearing ZCTU T-shirts.

Refusal to cooperate with the ILO: The government continued to renege on its international commitments by refusing, for the second year running, to appear before the Committee on the Application of Standards at the International Labour Conference.

Nine trade unionists from the education sector arrested and tortured: On 19 February in Harare, nine members of the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), including the President Takavafira Zhou and the General Secretary Raymond Majongwe, were abducted by members of ZANU-PF whilst handing out leaflets about the crisis in the education sector. The trade unionists were dragged to the ZANU-PF headquarters, where they were severely beaten. Two women unionists were not spared and were subjected to serious sexual assault. Death threats were also made by the militia. Following this violence, five of the victims had to be hospitalised and two had severe fractures. Despite the assaults the nine women were kept under arrest. Six were released four days later and the three others after one week.

Education trade unionists targeted by the authorities and their henchmen: During the run-up to the elections, teachers and especially their trade union representatives were amongst the main victims of the security forces and gangs of young militia members and war veterans of ZANU-PF, who accused them of trying to influence the vote in the communities where they worked. According to a report from the PTUZ, 77 teachers had to be hospitalised after being assaulted, sometimes in front of their pupils, whilst hundreds of teachers' homes were ransacked and a huge number of teachers, particularly in rural regions, took flight or emigrated.

Assassination of a member of the PTUZ: The violence reached its peak in the run-up to the second round of the elections. On 5 June, the PTUZ learnt that one of its members, Sheperd Chegwu, the head of the Katsukunya secondary school, had been assassinated. He had been adducted from his home on 3 June. His dead body was found two days later, showing signs of torture and bullet wounds to the neck and head. Sheperd Chegwu had been interrogated beforehand by members of the ZANU-PF militia.

New violence and intimidation against trade unionists from the PTUZ: On 9 June, members of ZANU-PF stormed the PTUZ offices in Gokwe. After ransacking the place and carting off all kinds of documents, the fifteen or so assailants shut the offices down. Earlier, on 6 and 7 June, two local PTUZ activists had been violently attacked. In Harare, the PTUZ closed its offices after its leader Raymond Majongwe, General Secretary, and its treasurer and his family had been harassed by unknown persons.

Violence and threats against the whole free trade union movement: On 12 June, in Chegutu, Edward Dzeka, a leader of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers' Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) and President of the local ZCTU branch, was abducted by members of the ZANU-PF militia. He was apparently taken to a torture centre. In Chegutu too, Rebecca Butau, a ZCTU advisor, was beaten and had to have medical attention. Her assailants told her that they were looking for David Zunde, another GAPWUZ leader. Forty-six members of GAPWUZ had to seek refuge in Harare after being threatened and beaten up by militiamen. Also in June, the ZCTU President of the district of Chivhu, Tinashe Murau, was beaten up by ZANU-PF militiamen, who told him off for wearing a ZCTU tee-shirt. His hand was fractured.

Two main leaders of the ZCTU arrested and held for 11 days: On 8 May, Lovemore Matombo and Wellington Chibebe, the President and General Secretary, respectively, of the ZCTU, were placed under arrest after turning themselves over spontaneously at the Harare Central Police Station, aware that the police wanted to interrogate them after the speeches they had made on First May to workers at the Dzivaresekwa stadium. At that meeting, they had denounced the political violence raging across the country with the death of several people. They were charged with "spreading lies" and "fomenting rebellion against the government". On 19 May, after several delays and an initial ruling in the court of first instance denying them the right to bail, the High Court ordered their release on bail of 20 thousand million Zimbabwean dollars apiece. Raymond Majongwe, the General Secretary of the PTUZ, who was attending the hearing, was arrested and detailed for several hours. The terms attached to the release of the two ZCTU leaders included a ban on "speaking at political meetings until the case was closed". After many adjournments, the accused men eventually managed, on 18 September, to get their case heard in the Supreme Court.

PTUZ President imprisoned for five days: On 18 September, Takavafira Zhou, President of the PTUZ, was arrested by some men dressed in plain clothes. After being insulted and manhandled, he was dragged to the police station in Masvingo where he was held, in degrading conditions and with no contact with the outside world, until 22 September. He was threatened and accused of organising illegal strikes. Takavafira Zhou ended up being released, however, with no charge brought against him.

Police brutality, including against union leaders, and mass arrests throughout the country: On 3 December, 69 trade unionists were arrested during peaceful demonstrations by the ZCTU in several towns. The demonstrations were aimed at protesting against the unprecedented financial crisis in the country by submitting petitions to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. In Harare, the ZCTU General Secretary Wellington Chibebe was arrested along with nine other people whilst speaking to workers after handing over the petition. In the capital again, ten other trade union leaders were beaten up by the police, including five women activists: Gertrude Hambira, General Secretary of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers' Union; Angeline Chitambo, President of the Zimbabwe Energy Workers' Union; Tecla Masamba of the Communications and Allied Workers' Union of Zimbabwe; Martha Kajama of the National Engineering Workers' Union of Zimbabwe and Mirriam Katumba, Vice-Chair of the Women's Advisory Council. The activists arrested in Harare were released on the same day, but those arrested in other towns were not released until the day after or even several days later.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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