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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zimbabwe

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zimbabwe, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea661d41a.html [accessed 19 April 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: 12,500,000
Capital: Harare
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Agricultural workers' leader Gertrude Hambira was forced into exile after threats and harassment from the police. Several events held by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) were disrupted, curtailed or prevented by the police, and in some instances participants were arrested. A ZCTU official was assaulted by a manager at a security company, while a worker at a Chinese-owned company was dismissed for protesting about working conditions. Union activities are hampered by restrictive legal provisions, and there are no trade union rights in the public sector.

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.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: The economy has stabilised since the Government of National Unity (GNU) was formed in 2009, but the country remains desperately poor, and Zimbabwe still ranks bottom on the UN's Human Development Index. Tensions within the GNU were apparent, as President Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) continued to use violence and repression to dominate government institutions and hamper meaningful progress. The Minister of National Healing, former trade unionist and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) founding president, Gibson Sibanda, died in August after suffering from cancer.

ILO Commission of Inquiry finds serious violations: An ILO Commission of Inquiry confirmed in March that Zimbabwe's government was responsible for serious violations of fundamental rights, in particular the freedom to organise trade unions, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, and protection of trade unionists from discrimination. The Commission found the violations to be both systematic and systemic and highlighted that it "sees a clear pattern of arrests, detentions, violence and torture by the security forces against trade unionists that coincide with Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) nationwide events, indicating that there has been some centralised direction to the security forces to take such action." It also concluded that "there was another clear pattern of control over ZCTU trade union gatherings, be they internal meetings or public demonstrations, through the application of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA)" and that "detentions and targeted violence have been used to intimidate both leaders and rank and file members of the trade union in a systematic and systemic manner." The POSA has been used regularly as a pretext for anti-union action by the Mugabe regime.

The COI report made a series of recommendations to the Zimbabwe authorities including an immediate halt to the victimisation of trade unionists, the creation of an effective Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, training on human rights for the security forces, strengthening of the rule of law and legislative changes to comply with international labour laws.

Farm workers' union leaders harassed and arrested: When the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers' Union (GAPWUZ) published a report highlighting the plight of farm workers in Zimbabwe, they faced harassment and arrest. On 19 February the General Secretary of GAPWUZ, Gertrude Hambira, and members of her staff were questioned at Harare Central Police station about a documentary, the House of Justice, and its accompanying report, "If Something is Wrong". The film contained testimonies of murder, torture and violence against black workers on former white-owned farms during the government-driven, chaotic land reform since 2000. While the police believed the documentary contained serious anti-government allegations, Ms. Hambira and her colleagues were released, but with severe warnings.

The police visited the GAPWUZ headquarters daily to harass staff and search their offices questioning them on the whereabouts of their General Secretary and threatening them. The police investigation found that Mrs. Hambira had contravened Section 31 of the Criminal Law Act, which makes it an offence to publish or communicate false statements prejudicial to the state. Mrs. Hambira, who had already been threatened and beaten on several occasions in the past for her trade union activities, felt forced to go into exile on 24 February.

When the police again visited the GAPWUZ offices on 25 February, still looking for Mrs. Hambira, they arrested the Assistant General Secretary, Gift Muti, and the President, Manjemanje Munyanyi. They were briefly detained but then released. On 1 March, after failing to find any senior GAPWUZ officials, the police took a student who was on assignment with the farm workers' union to the central police station for interrogation.

ZCTU staff arrested after workshop disrupted by police: Police disrupted an educational workshop organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) for its Regional Women Advisory Council (RWAC) based in Mutare and due to be held from 2 to 4 March. On 2 March two plainclothes officers entered the workshop and sat as participants. The ZCTU paralegal officer based in Mutare advised the police officers that they were unwelcome and that the law does not allow them to attend ZCTU meetings uninvited. The police officers left and returned with a group of 15 uniformed colleagues and five more plainclothes officers. They were led by a senior assistant inspector from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). They ordered the workshop participants to disperse, accusing the ZCTU of conducting a workshop without police approval and citing the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) as their authority for dispersing the gathering. The participants complied with the order.

Three ZCTU employees, Tenyson Muchefa, Gilbert Marembo and Adrian Mugwanju, were arrested and detained at Mutare Central Police Station's CID. After the intervention by a Mutare-based lawyer, at the request of the ZCTU, the police later released Tenyson Muchefa and Gilbert Marembo. They threatened to keep Adrian Mugwanju in the cells, accusing him of being a nuisance to the police. Mugwanju was ordered to pay a fine of USD20 under duress. He complied and was later released. An appeal against payment of the fine was filed at the Mutare Magistrate Court. The matter was still pending at the end of the year.

Workers suspended for protesting: Harare City Council suspended 75 workers, the majority of them executive members of the Harare Municipal Workers' Union (HMWU), for staging a demonstration at Town House on 9 March. The workers were protesting against the non-payment of February salaries, an outstanding arbitration award and the unfair dismissal of a union leader. HMWU chairman Mr. Comas Bungu had been dismissed after 23 years service on allegations of "causing havoc". The union had written to the Mayor on several occasions outlining their grievances and seeking a meeting with him, but to no avail.

The suspension letters were sent out on 24 March but made the suspensions effective from 15 March, with subsequent loss of both pay and benefits. The Town hall claimed the protest held on 9 March was illegal, although the union had sought and obtained police permission. The suspensions were valid for 14 working days, to allow for investigations and possible disciplinary action. During that time the workers were prohibited from visiting City of Harare premises and were warned not to "interfere" with witnesses or investigations. The union's chairman, Mr Cosmas Bungu, believed the council's action was aimed at crippling and destroying the union.

ZCTU official harassed by police: On 10 April a ZCTU district officer, Runesu Dzimiri, was ordered to stop distributing fundraising forms for ZCTU May Day celebrations around Makoni shopping centre by a Criminal Investigation Department official (CID). All forms and his personal diary were confiscated by the CID official, who demanded that Mr. Dzimiri produce a certificate of authority from ZCTU. Mr. Dzimiri advised him to call the ZCTU office to clarify his position, as the forms were duly signed by the ZCTU Secretary General, but the police officer remained adamant. The forms were withheld for 10 days. The ZCTU paralegal officer then spoke to the officer commanding the Chitungwiza district, and the forms and diary were later returned to Mr Dzimiri.

Union official assaulted by manager: The national organising secretary of the Zimbabwe Security Guards Union (ZISEGU) was assaulted on 11 April by a manager at Guardians Security Company while conducting union business. He was collecting the verdict of a hearing involving one of the company's employees and a union member. The manager ordered him to leave the premises and demanded that the union send someone else, as he did not want workers at the company to be represented by that particular union officer. The manager then sent security guards to escort the union official out of the company premises. As he was being escorted out, he called his general secretary to inform him of what was happening. As he made the phone call, the manager started punching and kicking him. He sustained a broken tooth, bruises on his hands and a swollen face from the assault. He was treated at Harare Central Hospital and discharged the same day.

Attempts to hamper ZCTU May Day celebrations: The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) had its May Day celebrations restricted. The union notified Masvingo police of its intention to hold a peaceful procession to mark International Workers' Day on 1 May, from ZCTU Masvingo offices to Mucheke Stadium, but in a letter dated 30 April the police superintendent banned the procession. Commemorations were allowed to go ahead at the Mucheke Stadium.

The ZCTU Chiredzi District received approval from the Chiredzi municipality to hold an International Workers' Day commemoration in Chetsanga hall and duly paid for the use of the hall. On 1 May, however, when ZCTU members led by the district chairperson, Mr Martin Shumba, gathered at Chetsanga hall, they found it being used by members of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). When the ZCTU members queried the occupation of their venue, ZANU-PF members told them to leave the place. ZCTU approached the council authorities, who later allocated them a community boardroom to conduct the commemorations. Commemorations went ahead but with a low turnout.

Mass dismissal of striking miners: Rio Tinto Zimbabwe Ltd. (RioZim), operator of the Renco Gold Mine in Zimbabwe's Masvingo province, dismissed 70 miners, suspended 370, and gave a total of 760 of Renco's 1,000 workers final warnings in retaliation for taking part in a strike in May. The miners were members of the Associated Mine Workers' of Zimbabwe (AMWZ), which called the national mine strike in protest at the failure of several mining employers affiliated to Zimbabwe's Chamber of Mines to deliver on wage adjustments that came in an arbitration award the previous year. The mining companies had also neglected to remit contributions to the Mining Industry Pension Fund, monies owed to the National Employment Council for the Mining Industry, and to the AMWZ for subscriptions.

The AMWZ filed the necessary 14-day intent-to-strike notice in April, and their action went ahead on 9 May. Some 20,000 miners protested in 45 different mining companies. The Chamber of Mines responded by filing a show-cause order, and on 14 May the Labour Ministry ordered the AMWZ to suspend its five-day strike. The AMWZ was told to inform miners to return to work or they could face dismissal. All strikers at Renco returned to work within the mandatory 24-hour period after the issuing of the show-cause order, yet the disciplinary measures were still imposed.

The AMWZ leaders, including its president Tinago Ruzive, attempted to meet with Renco management over the unfair measures, but management refused to meet.

Police try to prevent ZCTU commemoration of mine disaster: On 6 June police chiefs in Harare banned the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) from holding a commemoration at the Hwange Colliery of the 1972 mine disaster in which 427 mine workers died. The police officer commanding Harare South District, Chief Superintendent T.A. Chagwedera, claimed the ZCTU had not given enough notice under the provisions of the notorious Public Order and Security Act (POSA). The police chief also claimed that World Cup duties had put an additional strain on their forces. In a letter to the ZCTU, he warned against defying the order: "We shall not hesitate to invoke the provisions of section 29 of POSA," he wrote. The threat contradicted recent promises the government had made to the ILO that it would stop using the POSA to regulate trade union activities. After protests to the co-Ministers of Home Affairs, the police finally sanctioned the commemorations under certain conditions, and they went ahead on 19 June. However, the procession was banned.

Police also attempted to block ZCTU commemorations of the mine disaster in Kwekwe. It took the intervention of the High Court to allow the event to go ahead on 3 July. In Bulawayo, the police banned a union procession commemorating the mine disaster.

Dismissed for protesting at working conditions: In June it was reported that an employee at the Chinese telecommunications construction company CETC was dismissed for complaining about poor working conditions. Workers were forced to work for 14 hours per day instead of the stipulated eight hours, with no overtime pay. The company was also paying its workers at lower rates than those agreed to at the National Employment Council (NEC), the collective bargaining forum whose agreements are legally binding on all companies in a particular sector. The company was also accused of not providing employees with protective clothing. The dismissed employee successfully challenged his dismissal with the help of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), and the company was ordered to compensate him for the underpayment, overtime, and loss of income and to reinstate him to his previous position without loss of pay and benefits. The ZCTU is still trying to ensure that the company adheres to proper labour practices, as Chinese businesses in Zimbabwe have not shown great respect for the country's labour laws.

Positive signals from the government: The Ministry of Labour announced in August that it was unlawful for the notorious Public Order and Security Act (POSA) to be used against trade unions and that an awareness campaign was needed for the police. The Ministry also announced that the government was going to review the POSA.

Airline union leaders sacked over pay protest: Air Zimbabwe announced on 15 September that it had fired the eight members of the Board of the Zimbabwe Pilots Association further to a strike the previous week. The 40 pilots employed by Air Zimbabwe went on strike in protest at receiving less than half their monthly pay package. The airline said they were being paid at least USD 1,200 a month, but it could not afford to pay them the full USD 2,500 salary owing to severe financial difficulties. The pilots did not return to work when ordered to and disciplinary proceedings were started.

Attempts to block union fail: In September the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) lost its three-year-long bid to block its workers from launching a trade union, after the Registrar of Labour approved the application by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority Trade Union (ZIMRATU) to be registered as a trade union. The revenue authority had argued that the nature of its business was sensitive and that involving trade unionists in its ranks would open the floodgates to leaks of important data. ZIMRATU leaders are said to have endured a string of intimidatory tactics from powerful government officials who tried to stamp out trade unionism at ZIMRA following management representations to Ministries seeking a directive to force the abandonment of the idea.

ZIMRA bosses said they preferred to deal with a workers' committee, which gave them the latitude to extinguish threats of job actions before matters escalated. The report by the Registrar of Labour dated 8 September 2010, however, said ZIMRA's workers' council was ineffective in addressing the needs of the workers, adding that a trade union for the taxmen would be imperative to effectively represent the disenfranchised employees. It also noted that ZIMRATU was exercising rights enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the Labour Act.

Continued harassment of ZCTU: At an ITUC meeting in Harare in September hosted by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, general secretary of ITUC-Africa, noted that while the formation of the inclusive government heralded a step toward some healing, progress has been too slow. ZCTU leaders still faced harassment and unions were still finding their job very difficult. In a later interview his views were echoed by ZCTU General Secretary Wellington Chibebe that unions were still facing political harassment.

Collective bargaining still very difficult: Interviewed in October 2010, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions' (ZCTU) General Secretary Wellington Chibebe said that most employers were refusing to engage in wage negotiations. Where they were engaging in wage negotiations, they were refusing to honour the agreements. Furthermore, the government called for a moratorium on wage negotiations, making the situation very difficult for the unions.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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