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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zimbabwe

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zimbabwe, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
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

There were fewer serious trade union rights violations than in previous years, thanks in part to the new Government of National Unity, but many problems persist. Members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) still faced harassment at the hands of the police, ZANU-PF youths and the Central Intelligence Organisation. Three striking mineworkers were shot and injured and many workers faced severe sanctions for exercising the right to strike. ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo was arrested in November along with four colleagues under the notorious Public Order and Security Act. 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 2009

Background: The year started with high hopes of economic recovery and improvements in the political landscape. The three main political parties entered into a Government of National Unity (GNU) that became functional in February. Morgan Tsvangirai, the president of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and former trade union leader, became Prime Minister. There was strong economic growth but salaries remained stagnant, and the government faced widespread industrial unrest.

Harassment and intimidation by ZANU-PF: In practice, trade union members still face harassment and intimidation from the authorities and supporters of Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) is seen as being close to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and has been a particular target for harassment as a result, although the MDC's participation in the government has helped the situation slightly. Several incidents occurred during the year, however. The ZCTU reported, for example, that its District Committee member in Karoi, Mr. Toindepi Tsigo, was assaulted by ZANU-PF thugs returning from a ZANU-PF meeting in Harare. The youths attacked Mr. Tsigo and removed his ZCTU T-shirt, saying they did not wish to see a ZCTU person in Karoi. Teachers also reported being were terrorised by ZANU-PF youths over the summer further to protest action.

Ignoring international labour standards: For many years, the Mugabe government repeatedly refused to cooperate with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and for two years running refused to appear before the Committee on the Application of Standards at the International Labour Conference. As a result, the ILO decided in November 2008 to apply one of its toughest measures, a Commission of Inquiry, to examine complaints concerning the non-observance by Zimbabwe of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98). The Commission of Inquiry began its work in February 2009.

Union activities obstructed under multitude of laws: The 2002 Public Order and Security Act (POSA) bans any public gathering held without police permission. Although public gatherings held by a registered trade union for bona fide trade union activities are exempted from the act, in practice it is still used to obstruct union activities and harass trade unionists. Under the POSA, people found guilty of disturbing the peace, security or public order, or of invading the rights of other people, are liable to a fine and/or imprisonment for up to ten years.

The reformed Penal Code of 2006 is also often used to arrest and imprison trade unionists. The Miscellaneous Offence Act carries less severe penalties, and is applied when charges of a public order offence cannot stand up in court. Blocking a public thoroughfare, for example, is an offence under this Act. Under the Labour Act, those taking part in an illegal strike can face prison sentences of up to five years.

Ministerial Interference in Collective Bargaining: There were several incidents during the year of government ministers interfering in collective bargaining.

The co-Minister of Home Affairs, Giles Mutsekwa, wrote to the Minister of Labour and Social Services asking that the salaries in the security industry be reduced. Mr. Mutsekwa is a member of the Security Association of Zimbabwe, making his interference particularly inappropriate.

In October, Minister Welshman Ncube launched a scathing attack on labour arbitrators saying they need re-orientation because their awards were too progressive.

During February and March, the Minister of Energy, Engineer castigated the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) management for the level of wages and benefits awarded to employees. The Minister signed a document ordering a reduction of the agreed wages and allowances with which ZESA and the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (NOCZIM) complied.

The city of Harare also slashed agreed wages after its management was allegedly castigated by the Minister of Local Government for awarding employees better wages.

Striking car workers dismissed: In February, 11 workers were dismissed by Wollowvale Mazda Motor Industries for briefly suspending work over a pay dispute. The dispute began on 24 February when the workers were advised they would be paid in local currency and food vouchers. Since the liberalisation of the economy, the workers needed foreign currency to pay their rent, transport cost and other basic necessities. The company refused requests from the workers and their representatives to meet them and discuss the matter.

On 25 February, employees were instructed to return to their workstations after have been assured that their concerns would be dealt with. The workers returned to their workstations and were paid cash. However, from 27 February, 37 employees were suspended and 11 later dismissed for allegedly engaging in an illegal collective job action. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) challenged the suspension and dismissal in the Labour court, which heard the matter and reserved judgment. The substantive issues were heard by the Arbitrator, and the Arbitral award was also reserved.

ZCTU members arrested on International Women's Day: Fourteen members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) Western Region were arrested on Saturday 7 March during commemorations for International Women's Day. The ten women and four men were cleaning up at Fife Street market as part of the day's activities. The police arrived, accused them of staging an illegal demonstration and detained them at Bulawayo Police Station for three hours. The members were only released after the Western Region Paralegal Officer intervened.

Harassment of ZCTU Witness to ILO Commission of Inquiry: On 9 April, agents from Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) threatened the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) Rusape District branch, Mr Amos Masumuse, with unspecified consequences if he proceeded to testify before the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Commission of Inquiry. The CIO officers advised Mr. Masumuse that they would make his life difficult in Rusape unless he relinquished his trade union post. He was shown a place where a person was murdered during the violent June 2008 elections and told that the same could happen to him. The ZCTU complained to the Minister of Labour and Social Services.

On 4 May, Mr Masumuse was abducted and driven to an unknown destination, but he managed to jump from the moving vehicle. The day after, the CIO agents banned the selling of a ZCTU newspaper "The Worker" in Rusape. They threatened the newsagents that if they continued selling the paper, they would "see what will happen to them". The newsagents were ordered to return the papers to Mr. Amos Masumuse and they complied. The ZCTU engaged lawyers in Mutare to apply to the Magistrate's court for a peace order. The Mutare Magistrate's Court granted the order on 2 June, instructing the CIO agents to refrain from harassing, assaulting, threatening, or engaging in conduct likely to interfere with Mr Masumuse.

Arrest and Detention of ZCTU Journalist: On 11 April, Christopher Mahove, a senior reporter for the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) publication 'The Worker', was arrested by police officers and detained at Dzivarasekwa police station in Harare for taking photos of police officers harassing informal traders and looting their wares. The police officers confiscated Mahove's camera and deleted all the pictures he had taken. Further to the intervention of a lawyer, on the instructions of the ZCTU, Mahove was released after paying a fine of USD20.

May Day celebrations lead to harassment of ZCTU officer: A Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) official in Hwange, Mr. C. Ncube, was harassed by police for his role in organising May Day celebrations. He was requested to report to Hwange police station on 2 May, but was advised by a ZCTU paralegal officer to go into hiding since it was a Saturday and the police have a culture of detaining people at weekends. From 10 to 15 May, Mr Ncube reported to police between 8 am to around 5:30 pm and was not allowed to eat. No charges were laid against Mr Ncube, but he was subject to abusive questioning. He was warned that if he did not resign from ZCTU activities, life would be difficult for him in Hwange.

Mass dismissal following strike: The Zimbabwe Mining and Smelting Company, ZIMASCO, based in Kwekwe, dismissed 23 workers, all union officials or members of the Zimbabwe Ferro Alloys Workers Union (ZFAWU), after they took part in a strike on 17 June. The strike was called in protest of management's failure to provide protective clothing for the workforce. All the strikers were dismissed, and the case was taken to the Labour Court, which ruled in favour of the company. However, all employees were reinstated except the trade union officials, including ZFAWU president Shadreck Bvumburai, chairperson Watson Mabhena, and secretary Darlington Mabuto.

Workers' representatives beaten by police, strikers dismissed: Four workers' representatives at the Victoria Falls Hotel were severely beaten by police, and 69 employees subsequently lost their jobs further to a sit-in to protest at the incident.

The dispute began when the hotel's general manager allegedly received an anonymous letter threatening violence. Four members of the workers' committee were requested to report to the police station on 20 June. The four concerned were Mr. Siboniso Mwela, the committee chairperson; Mr. Nawu N. Ndlovu, a committee member and chairperson of the Zimbabwe Catering and Hotels Workers Union (ZCHWU); Mr. Nigel Njanji, the secretary of the committee and Mr. Msizi Mlalazi another committee member.

The four were asked by an officer named Sugare, known to be a good friend of the hotel's human resources manager, about a meeting that was convened on 10 May which allegedly resulted in a plan to threaten the General Manager's life. Mr. Mwela and Mr. Ndlovu were brutally beaten, including on the soles of their feet. The officer refused to accept their explanation about the real purpose of the meeting – arranging union representation for some suspended colleagues – and continued beating the workers' representatives to force them to admit that the meeting was convened to hatch the alleged plot against the general manager. Mr. Msizi Mlalazi and Mr. Nigel Njanji were also tortured by the same officer and were told to give the police the minutes of the 10 May meeting and of all other workers' committee meetings of the past few months. They did this quickly but were then accused of bringing the wrong set of minutes. At the end of the day the four were released without charge.

On the 22 June, the entire workers committee was summoned to the police station to see officer Sugare, but when they got to the station the officer was not on duty. They returned on 24 June and were told by officer Sugare that "someone was going to die". He gave all of them paper and told them to write down the name of the person who wrote the anonymous letter threatening the life of the general manager and the human resources manager. All the committee members were later released without charge.

A request was later sent to management to talk to the workers about the incident, failing which the workers would engage in a collective job action. Management did not address the workers concerns, and on 7 and 8 July the workers held a sit-in. Management said the workers' action was illegal and ordered them to return to work immediately or leave the premises. The workers refused, and management suspended all 161 workers.

A total of 69 workers were finally dismissed. They lodged an appeal with the NEC, where conciliation was conducted and a certificate of no settlement was issued. The matter was referred to arbitration, which took place on 25 September. The arbitrator reserved his decision.

The workers' committee members were ordered by police to continuously report to the police station. There were no further developments at the time of writing.

Union leader harassed over ZCTU commemoration: In the Chegutu District, about 105km from Harare, police officers visited the home of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) District chairperson, Mr Edward Dzeka, in connection with the "September 13" commemorations held in Chegutu on 12 September. Police alleged that the gathering was illegal, as it was not approved by their office. They asked the ZCTU chairperson and demanded that he reports to their offices on 13 September. On that date, two police officers, one armed, visited his home to arrest him. He was away from home. Mr Dzeka later produced a fax of the High Court order that sanctioned the processions. The police officers left, warning Mr. Dzeka that they would call on him whenever they liked.

Three trade unionists arrested, march disrupted: Three trade unionists were arrested during a commemoration march on 12 September. The march was organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to commemorate 13 September 2006, when ZCTU leaders and activists were brutally assaulted while in police custody. The march was initially banned by the police, but the ZCTU won an order from the High Court allowing the commemoration to go ahead. On the morning of 12 September, about 40 police officers in riot gear arrived wielding batons and began dispersing the crowd. Three persons, Jokonia Mawopa, Phillip Gavaza and Juliana Gonhedza, were arrested for holding ZCTU banners. They were detained for two hours and later released without charge.

The commanding officer told the ZCTU that he was acting on instructions from their Police Headquarters to defy the Court Order and ban the ZCTU activity. He handed the letter banning the activity to the ZCTU legal advisor, saying that it was adequate evidence for the ZCTU to apply for contempt of court but that nothing would happen, even if the court issued a contempt order. Police officers then barricaded the entrance to the site. Groups of police officers and two water canon vehicles patrolled the road to the venue.

Striking mineworkers shot, arrested and dismissed: Three striking workers were shot on 25 September at the Shabanie asbestos mine in Zvishavane. They and others were arrested, and a total of 71 were later dismissed.

The workers had been on strike since 31 August in protest over pay. Management had not paid workers' their full salaries since January. Finally management promised to pay all outstanding wages and allowances by 31 August. The strike began when management reneged on that promise. On 25 September the striking employees gathered near the company premises for what they were told would be a meeting with management. Instead they were met by police armed with AK 47 rifles who threw tear gas into a crowd of 1,000 miners and their families.

One worker, Alluwis Zhou, asked where the managers were. In response he was shot in the left hand and then in the left leg. Two other workers, Taurai Zhou and Leonard Simbarashe Chinhadada, were shot in their right legs as they ran away. They were transferred to hospital in Harare for treatment. All three were arrested, along with scores of others. A lawyer was prevented from seeing the three injured men in hospital and was then arrested for obstructing the course of justice. He was subsequently released without charge.

Three days later two of the injured men, Alluwis Zhou and Taurai Zhou, were taken to a local courtroom in wheelchairs and charged with public violence. Nine more of those arrested appeared with them: Kudakwashe Shumba, Phonos Murombedzi, Laft Moyo, Givemore Nekai, Jemina Ratisai (wife of Alluwis Zhou), Cleopas Mhlanga, Edmore Moyo, Bernard Zhou and Amos Sibanda.

Armed police and agents from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) together with Shabanie Mine security officers visited workers in their homes on 29 September threatening that if they did not return to work the following day (30 September), they would have to vacate the mine houses and get out of town. On 30 September, about three quarters of the 2,280 striking workers returned to work.

Management began to dismiss workers for being absent without leave, defying the General Manager's order to return to work and for taking part in an illegal work stoppage. The workers' legal representative had requested management to inform him when the disciplinary hearings would take place, but management declined to do so. A total of 71 were dismissed, including the three who were shot.

On 30 September, the home of Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) Zvishavane District Secretary Ndodana Sithole was raided by police officers. They demanded to know what action the ZCTU was planning to take. Brother Sithole was also warned not to meet any Shabanie Mine employees. The police officers also demanded Alluwis Zhou's cell phone, as they believed it had photos of the shooting incident. They threatened to abduct Alluwis Zhou's wife if she failed to tell them the whereabouts of her husband and the cell phone.

Further to a request from the ZCTU, a parliamentary inquiry into the incident was due to be held in 2010.

ZANU PF Threaten ZCTU District Members: In October, in Banket, a ZANU-PF youth (the youth wing of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front party) activist made threats against members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). The ZCTU reported the threats to the police, but no action was taken. The names of four ZCTU members also appeared on a short-list prepared by ZANU-PF youth to be sent to a Minister, member of the ZANU-PF party. Mr. Wonder Nyaupfipa, Mr. Tendenedzeli, Mr. Kabaya and Mr. Chiduwa were to be targeted for unspecified action because of their co-ordination of ZCTU activities, which ZANU-PF view as MDC activities. Mr. Nyaupfira, the ZCTU district chairperson, was approached by the wife of an army officer demanding that he stop co-ordinating and associating with ZCTU.

Police supervision of trade union activity: On October, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) notified the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) in Mutare of its intention to commemorate the World Day for Decent Work. The ZRP sanctioned the commemorations but denied ZCTU Mutare members the right to hold a procession. The police also demanded to be included in the gathering to listen to the discussions. Four police officers attended.

Five union leaders arrested: Lovemore Matombo, the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU); Michael Kandukutu, ZCTU National Organiser; Percy Mcijo ZCTU Western Regional Officer, Dumisani Ncube, ZCTU Victoria Falls district chairperson; and Nawu Ndlovu were arrested by Victoria Falls police on Sunday 8 November at the Ngqondo Ngqondo Complex in Victoria Falls. Mr. Matombo was holding a consultative meeting with members of the ZCTU Victoria Falls District in preparation for a labour forum at the same venue the following day. The police claimed that Mr. Matombo's meeting was illegal because it was not sanctioned by the police, and charged the ZCTU officials under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). The five denied the charges. They appeared in court on the 12 November in Victoria Falls. The Magistrate ruled in favour of the trade unionists and warned police to respect the law. The five are suing the State for unlawful arrest and detention.

Police obstruction: On the 14 November, the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Lovemore Matombo,wanted to address a consultative meeting in Kadoma at Specks Hotel. Kadoma Police ordered the hotel to cancel the booking unless the ZCTU obtained a clearance letter from police. The meeting was later moved to Kadoma Ranch Motel. Some workers failed to attend due to the sudden change of venue.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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