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2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zimbabwe

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zimbabwe, 9 June 2007, available at: [accessed 22 February 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: 12,900,000
Capital: Harare
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Trade union rights and the human rights of trade unionists continued to be trampled on by the Robert Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. Throughout the year there were arbitrary arrests, seizure of materials, and threats and harassment of union organisations and their leaders. The most serious violation occurred in September, when security forces responded to a union demonstration with mass arrests and severe beatings of union leaders, drawing international condemnation. President Robert Mugabe was widely quoted in the media condoning the police brutality and suggesting the trade unionists had deserved to be beaten.

Trade union rights in law

"Draconian" legislation: The Labour Relations Amendment Act (LRAA) came into effect on 7 March 2003. While it pays lip service to the existence of trade unions, in general, it makes it very difficult for trade unions to exercise their rights and has been described as "draconian".

Technically, the Act does give 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 2005 Labour Amendment Act gives the Registrar the power to supervise the election of officers of workers' and employers' organisations, set aside elections, and postpone or change the venue of an election.

Organising is allowed in Export Processing Zones (EPZs).

Labour Amendment Act removes trade union rights for public sector workers: The Labour Amendment Act 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 LRAA recognises the right to collective bargaining. However, the 2005 Labour Amendment Act, in its sections 25, 79, 80 and 81, gives 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 sections 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 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 LRAA recognises the right to strike, there are many procedural hurdles, including 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 Labour Amendment Act also does not include provisions to prohibit employers from hiring replacement workers in the event of a strike. The Act 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 anything 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), which inter alia 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 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

Intimidation: In practice, members of independent trade union organisations face harassment and intimidation from government forces and 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.

"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 or stay-aways.

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. The ZCTU reports that some of its members have been assaulted for wearing ZCTU T-shirts.

Violations in 2006

Background: President Robert Mugabe's government continued its assault on the media, the political opposition, civil society activists and human rights defenders. Peaceful protests were often violently disrupted by police, and hundreds of demonstrators including students and trade unionists were arrested, taking advantage of repressive legislation. The government also attacked the remaining independent press through a wave of criminal prosecutions and arrests.

Armed police raid trade union offices in January: On 10 January armed police raided the offices of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, confiscating computer discs and files. The government said it had launched an investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement by trade union leaders and the raid was a first step. ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo said it was a political move to silence the union by discrediting its leadership.

Labour activist expelled from Zimbabwe in March: On 1 March South African labour activist Pat Horn was expelled from Zimbabwe. She was to facilitate an educational activity on the 'decent work agenda in the informal economy' at the ZCTU Silver Jubilee School. The police also had tried to interfere with the activity itself.

Two other labour activists expelled in March: Also in March the government continued with its crackdown on the unions by deporting two visiting consultants from the Dutch trade union Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging (FNV). They had come to evaluate a ZCTU activity financed by the FNV.

Trade unionists refused entry into the country in May: International guests invited to participate in the ZCTU's Sixth National Congress, held on 19 May in Harare were prevented from entering the country.

Mrs. Alice G. Siame, a consultant working for the Norwegian trade union confederation LO, and a Zambian national, entered Zimbabwe on 16 May, but was then escorted by force to Harare Airport where she stayed overnight. The following morning she was put on a plane to Johannesburg, South Africa. The LO Norway's Programme Officer for Africa, Nina Mjønberg, was also denied entry under the Immigration Act and was forced to return on the same plane she arrived with.

Jan Mahlangu from South Africa and Wiep Basie from Holland were also denied entry.

Zwelinzima Vavi, the General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, (COSATU), who was invited as a guest of honour to the ZCTU Congress, was also banned from entering Zimbabwe. On the same occasion, he was labelled a security threat and declared persona non grata, permanently preventing him from entering Zimbabwe.

ZCTU accused in June of violating foreign currency regulations: In June a Zimbabwe government investigator accused the ZCTU of violating foreign currency regulations, a move seen as part of a new crackdown on President Robert Mugabe's critics. According to the state-controlled Herald newspaper, the probe had revealed that the labour movement had "flouted foreign exchange control regulations and provisions in its constitution." Labour leaders have denied the allegations, saying the charges were part of a campaign by the government to suppress its opponents. "There is no doubt that this is part of a harassment campaign to keep pressure on civic society," said Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the political pressure group National Constitutional Assembly (NCA).

ZCTU offices raided in Chinhoyi in July: On 28 July, police raided the ZCTU Northern Regional Office in Chinhoyi, 100 km from Harare, and confiscated 2,000 flyers for ZCTU's campaign against high taxation in Zimbabwe.

ZCTU union flyers again confiscated in August: On 8 August, Michael Kandukutu and Wilson Kambanje, ZCTU staff from the Northern Regional Office, were taken for questioning by police and told they were going to be charged under the Criminal Law Act No. 23 of 2004, for having information (the flyers) that was wrong and could incite public violence.

ZCTU union leaders arrested in August: On 15 August ZCTU General Secretary Wellington Chibebe, travelling by car with his family from Masvingo, was arrested at a roadblock at Waterfalls Police Station, on the Mazorodze Road, and detained. The police reportedly stopped the car to search for cash, as part of a campaign to fight hyperinflation by searching for and confiscating money – which is illegal and being challenged in the courts. Excessive violence was used against Mr. Chibebe in front of his family, when he protested against its illegality.

The police manipulated the charges against Mr. Chibebe, accusing him of common assault against a policeman, under section 176 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23. He was released on Z$2 million bail and ordered to appear in court on 4 September 2006. The case was later postponed to 7 September because a lawsuit had been filed before the Supreme Court as to whether the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act was in conformity with the Constitution.

The day Mr. Chibebe was released, ZCTU National Organiser Leonard Gwenzi was arrested carrying Z$200,000 as he returned to ZCTU offices following a series of trade union workshops throughout the country. Mr. Gwenzi was later released without charges and the money returned after the Zimbabwean Reserve Bank acknowledged that he was carrying ZCTU funds.

Nationwide mass arrests before and during planned protests on 13 September: On 13 September the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions planned to protest against hyperinflation, estimated to be the world's highest at 1,200 percent, and to demand higher incomes linking the minimum wage to the Poverty Datum Line, lower taxes, better access to antiretroviral drugs needed for combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and a stop to the harassment of workers in the informal economy.

The protest had been announced beforehand and the police informed of planned routes. The government warned that the protest was deemed illegal as such issues were to be dealt with under the Tripartite National Forum. Routes planned for the protest as well as assembly points were blocked in many cities and ZANU PF militia wearing party regalia moved from point to point in Harare, intimidating people. After the march had lasted ten minutes trade unionists were asked to stop, then to sit down, and finally ordered onto trucks and taken to detention centres.

Trade union leaders were detained and interrogated throughout the country on the day of the protest and the day previous to the march. In some cases they were assaulted by police, in others, they were threatened or intimidated. ZCTU leaders were arrested in their homes and offices. In Masvingo and Mutare, ZCTU offices were blockaded and/or sealed closed by the army and police forces. There was repression against trade unionists and other civilians throughout Zimbabwe including in Harare, Chitungwiza, Plumtree, Gwanda, Hwange, Bulawayo, Beitbridge, Masvingo, Mutare, Chinhoyi, Kariba, Gweru, Shurugwi, Gokwe, Kwekwe, and Chegutu. In total 265 union protesters were arrested on 12 and 13 September.

Union leaders severely beaten on 12 and 13 September: In Harare, those arrested on 13 September 2006 included ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo, First Vice President Lucia Matibenga, and General Secretary Wellington Chibebe. Union members were taken to Matapi Police Station in Mbare where they were pushed and kicked into the prison then severely beaten inside the prison cells. Matombo and Chibebe could not manage to stand after the assaults and were soaked in blood; Matibenga had feet so swollen she could no longer walk.

The union leaders were at first refused medical attention and were denied access to a lawyer. On 14 September, the ZCTU members were to be transferred to Harare's Central Police Station but after spending the night the station refused to keep them due to their injuries, and insisted on receiving a report on who had assaulted them. The three were transferred back to Matapi, then transferred to hospital and only examined by physicians 36 hours after the beatings.

More information on the beatings was reported later through their lawyer Aleck Muchadehama. Chibebe had to be operated on and had a court hearing held for him on 16 September at his hospital bedside. On 15 September, 29 activists and leaders arrested in Harare were brought to court, and six of them had an arm in a sling due to injuries sustained under police custody. They were all charged under section 37 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, according to which it is an offence to act in a manner likely to cause public disorder. They were released on bail of Z$ 20,000 each, told to report each Friday at the Harare Central Police Station before going on trial on 3 October. Trade unionists in other ZCTU districts were also beaten and had to receive medical attention. Lawyers for the jailed Zimbabwe labour and opposition officials said injuries included broken arms, legs, ribs, and head injuries.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) issued a medical report confirming that 15 were assaulted while in police custody. "These were injuries consistent with beatings with blunt objects, heavy enough to cause fractures (nine fractures in seven individuals) to hands and arms, and severe and multiple soft-tissue injuries to the backs of the heads, shoulders, arms, and buttocks and thighs," the ZADHR said it a statement.

Union leader detained at the Harare International Airport: ZCTU Assistant General Secretary Japhet Moyo was detained and interrogated for two hours at the Harare International Airport on 19 September. He was accused of having organised the 13 September protests and then of leaving the country to disseminate lies about Zimbabwe. Moyo was reportedly ordered not to talk about the incident since it was "just a routine security check."

Trade unionists refused entry on International Day of Action on Zimbabwe: On the International Day of Action on Zimbabwe on 22 September, against the torture that took place on 12 and 13 September, a four-person labour delegation of the USA AFL-CIO constituency group Coalition of Black Trade Unionists led by AFL-CIO Vice President William Lucy was refused entry into Zimbabwe.

Mugabe condones assault on trade union leaders: On 25 September Mugabe told media that the police were right in using violence against the trade union members. "The police had reason to deal severely with the ZCTU leaders during their manifestation, because they wanted to take the law into their hands ... it is not possible to have a situation where people decide to sit down in non-authorised places and when the police try to chase them away the say no ... . when the police say move, move. If you don't move, you invite the police to use force." Mugabe also said that "some people are now crying foul that they were assaulted, yes, you get a beating."

September break-in at the office of the ZCTU General Secretary: On 29 September the office of ZCTU General Secretary Wellington Chibebe were broken into by unknown assailants. Only a phone handset and a fax machine were missing, suggesting that specific information had been sought.

Journalists' union threatened with inquest into "anti-government propaganda" in October: On 3 October the media reported that the governmental Media and Information Commission had requested the Ministry of Information to begin an investigation into the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) for "anti-government propaganda."

Trial of 31 ZCTU activists repeatedly postponed: On 3 October the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions reported that a Harare magistrate postponed the trial of 31 ZCTU activists arrested on 13 September for taking part in the mass action, after a request from the ZCTU lawyer who said those injured were not yet fit to stand trial while others were still recuperating. They were no longer required to report to the police every Friday. On 17 October, the trial was postponed again, to 30 October. In early November the trials were once again postponed to 4 December, and then on 7 December, they were postponed till 26 March 2007.

The government threatened to remove union leaders in October: On 29 October Robert Mugabe's nephew Leo was reported to be moving a motion in Parliament that would seek the removal of ZCTU leadership for "unethical conduct ... and for abandoning its core business of representing workers to pursue politics." A ZCTU official commented this was part of the government's intimidation tactics and part of a programme to further reduce the democratic space.

Government says use of force justified: In response to expressions of concern by the International Labour Organisation about the beatings of officials and members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions on 13 September, the government said that labour leaders had been trying to violently overthrow President Robert Mugabe. Permanent Secretary of the Labour Ministry Lancaster Museka said union leaders had no right to engage in an illegal demonstration, and the alleged attempt to unseat the Mugabe government justified the use of force against the protest leaders.

Security agents seize donated radios: In December 2006 the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) reported that police and suspected agents of the Central Intelligence Organisation had been seizing radios donated to union members. The PTUZ had distributed the solar-powered radios to members in remote parts of the country to allow them to listen to independent news broadcasts from outside Zimbabwe. PTUZ General Secretary Raymond Majongwe told media that the union planned to take legal action to recover the radios.

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