Unions condemn anti-strike laws in Zimbabwe

Trade unions in Zimbabwe are raising serious objections to recently passed laws that violate trade union rights.

The Health Services Amendment Act and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Amendment Bill) violate the Constitution of Zimbabwe and International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions that the country has ratified. The conventions include Convention 87 (freedom of association and protection of the right to organize) and Convention 98 (the right to organize and collective bargaining). The ILO sent a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe last year after receiving numerous reports on labour violations.

The Health Services Amendment Act state that strikes in the public health sector, which is described as an essential service must not go beyond 72 hours. If unions fail to adhere to this limited time, the organizers will be fined and sentenced to three years in prison.

According to a government gazette the Criminal Law amendment will make it legal to arrest and prosecute the country’s populace for wilfully injuring the state sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe – a clause that legal experts say has wide interpretation that can lead to arbitrary arrests of human rights and trade union activists.

Joseph Tanyanyiwa, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe IndustriALL national coordinating council says: 

“Workers’ rights are human rights that should neither be constrained nor compromised. What is even more worrisome to us is the criminalization of freedom of expression. The laws will have far-reaching negative impacts that will narrow our rights as protected in the country’s constitution and ILO conventions, which were ratified by the government. We are imploring the government to urgently amend or repeal the laws which will instil fear in trade unions and their members. These laws will weaken the workers struggle for better working conditions.” 

With inflation reportedly at 229.8 percent in January 2023 and the highest in the world, Zimbabwean workers, whose average wages are US $62 per month, are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Health-care, energy, and mineworkers went on strike last year to demand living wages and the timely payment of wages. At Vumbachikwe gold mine in Gwanda, workers went on strike after non-payment of wages for over three months.   

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa says: 

“It is oppressive to pass laws that prohibit strikes amid a cost-of-living crisis, wage theft, and low wages. We urge the Government of Zimbabwe to respect the country’s laws and the fundamental rights at work as defined by the ILO.”

IndustriALL affiliates in Zimbabwe are the National Union of the Clothing Industry (NUCI), National Union of Metal and Allied Industries of Zimbabwe (NUMAIZ), Zimbabwe Chemical, Plastics and Allied Workers Union (ZCPAWU), Zimbabwe Diamond and Allied Minerals Workers Union (ZDAMWU), Zimbabwe Energy Workers Union (ZEWU), Zimbabwe Leather Shoe and Allied Workers Union (ZLSAWU) and Zimbabwe Textile Workers Union (ZTWU). (https://www.industriall-union.org)

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