ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
Peaceful strike action taken by the unions was violently suppressed by security forces. Hundreds of strikers were suspended and tens of others were dismissed, beaten and arrested. Simply attempting to organise a demonstration, like the miners' wives trying to find a way to make their voice heard, or distributing leaflets, as many unionists did in preparation for the two general strikes, proved sufficient to trigger fierce repression. In the education sector, one leader was issued death threats and another died just weeks after being tortured during yet another period in custody.
Trade union rights in law
"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to promises made by the government at the International Labour Conference in June 2004 that these Articles would be repealed.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.
The ILO Committee of Experts continues to express its concern that this provision permits significant interference by the Minister in the collective bargaining process.
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 2007
Background: The former breadbasket of Southern Africa has been plunged into the worst economic crisis in its history, with the highest official rate of inflation in the world, unemployment of 80% and huge basic commodity shortages. At the end of 2007, the World Food Programme indicated that over four million people were in need of food aid. Some three million had already chosen to flee the country. The harshening of the dictatorship and the repression affected society at large, not least the trade unions and other democratic organisations. The safety of the political opposition, human rights defenders and trade unionists came under even greater threat.
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 has reported that some of its members have been assaulted for wearing ZCTU T-shirts.
Refusal to cooperate with the ILO: The government has continued to renege on its international commitments and, at the International Labour Conference in June, even refused to appear before the Committee on the Application of Standards.
Collective bargaining rejected: Union efforts at conciliation have been trampled by police repression and President Mugabe's stubborn resolve to concede nothing to the workers and unions. To give just one example, forces of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) carried out a violent raid on the head office of ZCTU the day following a preliminary meeting between representatives of the government, employers and unions, in which all the participants had agreed to restart negotiations two days later. As a result, the unions have been driven to take repeated strike action, despite the repression and suffering endured. The Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNP), on which the unions had placed so much hope regarding the crucial issue of wages, has not carried much weight, except for being invoked by the authorities when declaring strikes illegal. The trade union demand to link the minimum wage to the poverty index was never addressed, and on 29 August a presidential decree established a freeze on prices and salaries, supposedly to give the Head of State greater powers to fight, alone, against hyperinflation. The government refused to approve collective agreements in rural areas, where it is usually the employer. In the public services, this refusal is systematic.
Right to strike flouted and collective suspensions in two public enterprises: On 4 January, the electricity company Zesa suspended 135 workers, without pay or other compensation, for having taken part in a strike. The spokesperson for the management explained that the company could not tolerate its employees' "barbaric conduct". On 18 January, the Tobacco Research Board suspended 300 workers after being issued with a strike notice. The president of the workers' committee was the first to be fired. Eighty contract workers were also dismissed.
22 miners' wives arrested for trying to plan a demonstration: On 15 January, 22 miners' wives were arrested for trying to plan a protest against the low wages of their husbands working for the Zimasco mining company in the Midlands region. The police detained the women whilst they were looking for a way of organising the demonstration, despite the ban by the authorities. They were not released until the following day, despite the fact that some were pregnant and others had young children with them. They each had to pay a fine of ZIM$5,000.
Heavy penalties for strikes in the health sector: On 1 February in Harare, three nurses were arrested and charged with inciting their work colleagues to take part in a strike. They were released on 6 February. The following day, also in Harare, around 60 young striking doctors were dismissed.
Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe targeted by the authorities: On 14 February, Raymond Majongwe and Macdonald Mangauzani, leaders of the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) who had been on strike since 5 February, were arrested at a primary school in Harare. They were released the following evening. Macdonald Mangauzani, who suffered from high blood pressure, was tortured by the police whilst in custody. His health swiftly deteriorated following his release, and he died on 27 May at the age of 37. He was the treasurer of the PTUZ. During the last five years of his life, Macdonald Mangauzani was arrested on 19 occasions as a result of his trade union activism.
PTUZ General Secretary harassed and issued with death threats: Raymond Majongwe, the General Secretary of the PTUZ, decided to go into hiding for some time following his release on 15 February. He had been harassed on countless occasions in the past and had already been charged following his arrest during the strike of September 2006. At the beginning of February, he was called in for questioning by the police and both he and his wife had been subjected to intimidation in their home. Later, in April, he learned that his name was on a list of people to be eliminated, alongside a number of human rights activists, journalists and opponents of the regime. Later, in September, during a new teachers' strike called by the PTUZ, Raymond Majongwe received several death threats by telephone.
PTUZ strikers brutally repressed: PTUZ leaders and strikers across the country were threatened and repeatedly mistreated. At the beginning of February, at least 11 local PTUZ leaders were taken in by the police for questioning. On 21 February, the authorities hardened the tone after the main trade union in the sector, the Zimbabwe Teachers' Association (ZIMTA), decided to join the strike action. The striking teachers at three schools in Glen Norah, a densely populated suburb of Harare, were beaten, and several were even forced to eat chalk. Terrified by the police officers' brutality, the children fled the school, seeking refuge in the surrounding areas. At the same time, the official press accused the PTUZ of "working hand in hand with the British government" and of having organised a political strike. In September, during another strike, unknown persons ransacked the union head office.
Ban on demonstrations in the capital: At the end of February, the authorities in Harare announced a three-month ban on any form of public gathering in the city, following political violence in a township of the capital. Although they respected the ban, the unions did carry out a number of strikes, which were brutally suppressed.
Trade union press journalist held for two days and charged: On 3 March, Bright Chibvuri, a journalist of the ZCTU fortnightly news magazine "The Worker" was arrested in the town of Plumtree where he was attending a trade union workshop as a simple staff member of the ZCTU. He was detained for working without press accreditation, though he had applied for it to the competent authority but had received no reply. He was charged and held at the police station for two days. His case had still not been heard at the end of the year.
Numerous arrests and intimidation to undermine the strike planned for 3 and 4 April: On 13 March at 9:30 a.m., agents of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIO), flanked by police, stormed the ZCTU head office in Harare, equipped with a search warrant. Three members of staff were assaulted during the raid. Galileo Chirebvu, the finance officer, was arrested then released. The police ransacked the premises and took away the campaign material produced to mobilise workers for the two-day work stoppage scheduled for the 3 and 4 April. This new attack came the day after a meeting between union and employer representatives and several ministers, heralding a renewal of dialogue. On 20 March, in Masvingo, the police stopped two ZCTU activists and a member of its staff who were distributing leaflets publicising the strike of 3 and 4 April, took them to the police station and charged them with "littering and distributing material that has the potential to cause an uprising". At the end of March, the police called trade union leaders in for questioning in several towns and cities and raided their local trade union offices. Their purpose was to undermine the organisation of the general strike by means of warnings and threats. Numerous sources report that workers were also targeted. Members of the ruling ZANU PF party and pro-government militia placed direct pressure on them, paying them visits and warning them that they faced serious risks if they took part in the strike.
Trade unionists beaten and employers threatened after the 3 and 4 April strike: Although the numbers taking part in the strike were limited due to the authorities' campaign of intimidation, many of the participants were attacked, such as the six employees of the Karina textile firm in Mutare, all members of the workers' committee, who were assaulted by the police. Takesure Muri, the president of the Zimbabwe Textile Workers' Union (ZTWU), was also severely beaten during the attack. The authorities' threats also extended to employers deemed too lenient with the strikers. The police forced the managing director of Karina, for example, to find the addresses of all his workers, to go to their homes and to force them to come to work. On 5 April, the Minister of Industry announced that he had asked the companies that had closed during the strike to inform him of the reasons within 24 hours, indicating that sanctions would be taken against companies failing to act firmly enough with their employees.
May Day celebrations cancelled amid fears for unionists' safety: Amid the climate of terror created by the government, the ZCTU was forced to cancel May Day activities in four provinces controlled by ZANU PF militias. Members of the militias had warned trade unionists of grave consequences, including death, if they organised demonstrations to mark the occasion.
ZCTU lawyers intimidated: On 4 May, Alec Muchadehamma and Andrew Makoni, two prominent lawyers defending the general secretary of the ZCTU, Wellington Chibebe, and other union leaders, were arrested and unlawfully detained until 7 May.
Political and judicial harassment of Wellington Chibebe: The ZCTU general secretary, who had already been charged with the alleged assault of a police officer in 2006, was called in for questioning on 19 July about his May Day speech, in which he criticised the government's wage policy and announced a programme of strikes, to be held every three months. In the weeks that followed, the free press reported on the pressure being placed on the judiciary to prosecute W. Chibebe at all costs, in a bid to thwart the series of strikes.
Three arrests during a trade union workshop on HIV/AIDS: On 27 July, a workshop on HIV/AIDS being held in Kadoma for workers of the local branch of the Pulp and Paper Workers' Union was interrupted following the arrest of Mildred Giyava, HIV/AIDS coordinator of the ZCTU, Ms Hungwe of the ILO, and John Ngirazi, the president of the local union. They were reproached during their interrogation for failing to apply for a permit to hold the workshop.
Preparation of the second general strike also undermined by arrests: At least ten trade union leaders and activists across the country were arrested during the week prior to the strike of 19 and 20 September. Among them were Michael Kandukutu, national organiser of the ZCTU, Tennyson Muchepfa of the National Engineering Workers' Unions, and Justice Mucheni of the Food Federation, who were attacked and beaten when handing out leaflets at the Workington industrial park in Harare. The general secretary and the president of the ZCTU for the Midlands region, Isaac Thebethebe and Charles Makozho, were also among those arrested, together with Reason Ngwenya and Ambrose Sibindi, leaders of the ZCTU in Bulawayo. Having been alerted to the manhunt, many other union leaders went into hiding. Subsequently, on the evening of 18 September, plainclothes police forced an entry into the home of ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo, and on failing to find him there arrested his brother, Kenneth Matombo, and a security guard. Both of them were mistreated until being released on the evening of the 20th, after paying a fine. In each instance, the police denied the detainees the right to legal assistance from their lawyers. A political commentator reporting on the strike, which had once again received limited support, explained that the pressure exerted on employers had played a major role and that for many workers the need to find food for their families had prevailed over the need to protest against the government.
Courts overburdened: On 8 May, the 11 trade unionists from Chegulu who had been arrested during the demonstrations of September 2006 were acquitted. Several other unionists arrested for distributing leaflets prior to the strike of 3 and 4 April were also acquitted. As regards the legal proceedings instituted against the State by 12 ZCTU leaders, including the president and general secretary, for the grievous bodily harm inflicted on them during the same wave of repression in September 2006, the court case had barely begun when it was interrupted by the magistrates' strike that paralysed the courts at the end of 2007. The backlog of cases to be heard is huge, given the sheer number of proceedings and the shortage of magistrates.
Allegations of fraud: In March, Wellington Chibebe, the general secretary of the ZCTU, and two other union leaders were found not guilty of flouting Exchange Control regulations. Allegations of fraud are often made against trade unionists or political opponents. At the local level, the ZCTU reported an attempt to question the integrity of the Zimbabwe Rural District Council Workers' Union of Gutu in the south of the country, in March. At the national level, in October, the acting general secretary of the ZCTU, Japhet Moyo, was taken to the police station by officers from the fraud section. He was released the same day.
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