Economic Emancipation Of Workers Is Only A Means To An End

In my previous article, I lamented how the State-workers relationship has deteriorated after the infamous dismissal of 16 000 nurses who had gone on strike in April 2018.

By Tendaishe Tlou

A week before the opening of schools on 8 May 2018 teachers’ unions had indicated that they would embark on yet another crippling strike that would be expected to force the Government to increase teacher’s salaries.

After some negotiations between the State and teachers, it has been agreed that there will be a salary increment of 15% for public servants, particularly for teachers and nurses.

This move was also instrumental in averting the strike that was planned by teachers, but did it? For the nurses, the salary increment also includes payment of arrears which accrued since Tendai Biti’s tenure as Finance Minister during the Government of Nation Unity (GNU). This is commendable. But, I would like to focus more on these two major issues:

  • In my well-considered opinion, the State should have also given the same package to teachers as has been given to nurses. It is unfair for nurses to get back-pays stretching as back as the years of the G.N.U to date and exclude other equally deserving people in the public sector. Teachers also need money to survive, including arrears which accrued then when some received meagre salaries and others went for months without getting paid. All workers are equal before the law.
  • In this case, a blanket approach to compensation for the past is necessary for appeasement. I am guaranteed that the decision to give nurses back-pays alone will be a bone of contention between the teachers and the State because the latter will complain that they have not been treated fairly. This move will cause tension and discord among the workers as some will feel that others are receiving preferential treatment more than others. In no time teachers will strike based on this.
  • It is my view that in as much as workers may be financially compensated, their labour rights under s65 of the Constitution must be respected, promoted, guaranteed and not be hindered by the State in any way. Financial welfare of workers is one thing whilst labour rights are another. There must be a clear separation of the two but bear in mind that worker’s socio-economic and civil-political rights are indivisible. The State should not expect workers not to engage in industrial action at any given time because they have given them salary increments or back pays. Rather, the State must ensure that workers exercise their rights in toto. The State must make a public commitment and pronouncement that it will respect workers’ rights in the present and future.

Against this background, it is my hope that the State and workers’ relationship is restored and that there is mutual respect between the two. Worker’s rights are human rights. I also urge the State to look into other issues related to the working conditions of workers, welfare and protection of workers in workspaces. These issues are conflict fault lines which will determine if workers will engage in further industrial action or not. Financial compensation of workers is only a means to an end. There is much more to be done to restore and sanitise the State-workers relationship.

Aluta Continua.

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