Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 08:28 GMT

The Global State of Workers' Rights - Zimbabwe

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 31 August 2010
Cite as Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - Zimbabwe, 31 August 2010, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
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.


Labor unions in Zimbabwe have been regular targets of organized repression and violence by the state in recent years. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) was established in the early 1980s, bringing together six labor organizations and emerging as the country's main labor umbrella group. Most white trade unions split up or joined African trade unions by the mid-1980s. Since the 1990s, the ZCTU has been a driving force behind the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the country's leading opposition party. The MDC was founded by former ZCTU secretary general Morgan Tsvangirai and challenged what was effectively a one-party state ruled by President Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African Nation Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party. After Mugabe won reelection amid violence and vote-rigging in 2008, Tsvangirai became prime minister as part of a fragile power-sharing deal in early 2009.

The U.S. State Department estimates that in 2009, about three million people worked in the informal sector and 600,000 were employed in the formal sector, with 65 percent of industrial establishments unionized. The ZCTU has about 300,000 members. The Zimbabwean constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association, including the right to form and belong to trade unions. Zimbabwe joined the International Labour Organization in 1980 and has since ratified a number of labor rights conventions, including those on the rights to organize, collective bargaining, and freedom of association. However, the government does not respect these rights in practice, and trade unionists are not free to operate without government interference. The government created an alternative labor body, the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions, which is not influential in practice but fosters confusion among workers. Public-sector employees do not have the right to collective bargaining or the right to strike. The Labor Relations Amendment Act explicitly recognizes a right to strike in the private sector, but procedural obstacles, such as a rule requiring 14 days of advance notice, limits the effectiveness of strikes. The act also prohibits strikes by workers in "essential services," a label that is defined expansively by the Ministry of Labor. Participants in strikes that are deemed illegal face sentences of up to five years in prison.

The state has repeatedly and systematically violated fundamental workers' rights, according to a special commission of inquiry of the International Labour Organization. Trade unionists have been arrested, detained, and subjected to torture by security forces. A conspicuous case was the arrest of ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo and other union leaders, who were reportedly harassed and beaten after they attempted to hold labor meetings in November 2009. Both union leaders and rank-and-file members have been intimidated through detention or targeted violence on a regular basis under the Mugabe regime, which uses the Public Order and Security Act to mask antiunion action.

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