The Zimbabwean worker, who has been the backbone of this country – constructing our cities, driving industry and commerce, teaching our children, and ensuring that we regain and maintain our health – has been reduced to nothing better than a slave, whose basic rights, such as access to justice, have all but been deprived due to poverty.
The Zimbabwean worker has been at the receiving end of injustice – from the employer, to the justice system that is supposed to provide redress, as well as labor unions that are meant to stand up for these rights.
The bottom line is that, no one seems to care for the ordinary worker, viewing them as a mere opportunity to exploit in order to make money.
It would appear as if slave trading, and slave driving is inherent in our blood, as no one seems to truly appreciate the contributions that the ordinary worker makes to our very existence.
According to recent statistics by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), 22,000 workers have not received their full salaries in the past three to four years.
Additionally, others have been unfairly dismissed from their employment.
Employers have been violating the Constitution with impunity, especially Section 65(1), which stipulates that, ‘every person has the right to fair and safe labor practices and standards and to be paid a fair and reasonable wage’.
The resultant poverty has made it virtually impossible for workers to engage lawyers – whose average fees are prohibitive – so as to seek legal redress.
As much as it is understandable that lawyers need to make a living, nonetheless, such insensitivity and lack of empathy for the plight of the poor worker is beyond comprehension.
Legal bills in the hundreds, if not thousands, of United States Dollars have been levied upon workers who have not been paid their salaries for years, and are on the brink of abject poverty.
This defies all logic, as one then wonders the reasons these people studied law – to attain lavish styles, or to assist those who are oppressed?
Save for those legal practitioners who are working for Non Governmental Organisations – and are most likely paid by those institutions – it is disheartening to discover that there are seldom any that are willing to offer pro bono services to help the oppressed.
In fact, the situation for workers is worse, as it is virtually impossible to find organisations, or legal practitioners – apart from those as the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice) – who truly offer pro bono services for exploited workers.
Such a scenario inevitably leads to another unenviable dilemma for workers – being intimidated by the judiciary system, as they fail to adequately present their cases before the courts, resulting in most of them losing cases that they ordinarily would have won.
This in turn deprives workers their right to a fair hearing, as stated in the Zimbabwe Constitution in Section 69.
Judges can not be faulted in this regard, as they are bound by the presentations made by the parties involved, and are strictly guided by the law, thus being impartial in their determinations.
As a result, most abused workers have shied away from seeking redress from the justice system, thereby, encasing them in perpetual poverty, as they lose everything they worked so hard for.
Need anyone be reminded that slavery and servitude, as well as forced labor – since threatening to dismiss someone from work, who is threatening to strike as a result of non-payment of salaries is akin to forced labor – is in contravention of Sections 54 and 55 of the Constitution.
As if this was not terrible enough, these same, already marginalized workers, are further subjected to exploitation by labor unions that purport to represent them.
Reports of workers who have been hoodwinked, and even commandeered, by labor union officials into representing them are rife.
On the surface, labor unions desiring to represent their constituents does not seem altogether dubious, as that is what is expected of them.
Nevertheless, for starters, the commandeering of reluctant workers into representing them is nothing short of illegal, as this is in clear violation of Section 70(1)(d) of the Constitution, which makes it unequivocally clear that any person has the right ‘to choose a legal practitioner and, at their own expense, to be represented by that legal practitioner’.
In addition, Section 65(2) unambiguously states that ‘every person has a right to form and join trade unions…of their choice’.
Therefore, the commandeering of workers by labor unions to represent them should never be tolerated.
But, the question is: why are these labor unions doing this?
This brings in another point, that of labor unions working in cahoots with employers to stifle workers’ rights – and in turn these unions receiving a generous payment.
Workers should be very wary of labor unions that drag their feet in seeking any meaningful redress to their plight, especially those that seem to be in endless negotiations with the employer without ever proceeding to court.
In most cases, these labor unions would be already receiving some payments behind the ever-suffering workers’ backs, so as not to take the cases any further.
Is it then any wonder that some of the most powerful labor unions in Zimbabwe do not ever produce any financial statements?
Labor officers should also be seen to be above board, as there have been widespread reports of dubious dealings between officers and employers, in a drive to scamper efforts by workers to seek justice.
Workers’ rights through the justice system should no longer be allowed to fester, through such hindrances.
Let the nation come together for the sake of the abused worker, as each one of us, in one form or another, is a worker.
We call upon legal practitioners well-versed in labor matters to come together, especially with organisations such as the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice), to offer pro bono services to these disadvantaged workers.
Workers should also resist, and even report labor unions that force themselves onto them, as well as part ways with those unions whose progress in addressing their plight appears to be going round in circles.
Any corruption at labor offices or courts should also be promptly reported, so that justice for workers may finally prevail.
This is a collective effort, as no singular entity can manifest the results that every worker desires, and as such let it be every Zimbabwean’s desire to see real change in the lives of the oppressed and exploited workers.
Tendai Ruben Mbofana is Programmes Director at the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice). Please feel free to call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or email: [email protected] ‘Like’ the ZimJustice page on Facebook for updates.