Moses Tshimukeni Mahlangu

A government’s perception of human value, dignity and aspirations can be deduced from the Labour laws of any given State.

The Master and Servant Act, 1934 was a bold statement by the oppressive minority settler regime in as far as their supremacy was concerned.

Under this Act, the black servant had no rights. Work- related misconducts were criminalised.

It was not surprising then, to find an employee being jailed for example over unauthorised absence from work.

Under that dispensation, the worker had no rights whatsoever. He was treated like a property of the employer.

Coming to unionisation, black workers were not allowed to form or join trade unions. Certain jobs were reserved for whites only.

Blacks were mainly meant to do all menial duties.

RBZ governor John Mangudya

Slowly yet surely pockets of resistance to this oppressive system gained momentum. Initially, the groupings were disguised as burial societies or friendship associations.

Gradually, the groupings graduated into political consciousness. The blackman started demanding for his hitherto denied space.

When peaceful disgruntlements were suppressed, the gun remained the sole answer to the unresolved conflict.

Young and old people responded to this frustration by joining the armed struggle. So protracted was the struggle which eventually culminated in the attainment of Zimbabwe’s Independence on April 18 1980.

Expectations by the hitherto down trodden blacks reached the apex. The incoming black government responded positively to these high expectations.

The Minimum Wage Act was promulgated. Workers were assisted by the government to form the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. Many gains favouring workers were realised as a result.

The relationship between workers and the government was cordial. Signs of mistrust and bickering became more pronounced towards 1990, when the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap), was introduced. Proponents of Esap argued that the programme would attract investors, who were critical to the economic growth.

Prerequisites for the full rolling out of Esap, were downsizing the civil service and removal of subsidies. The lean State was the target.

Social ministries, like those of education, health and social services were the most vulnerable.

The developmental state was done away with. Today, damages of Esap are still evident in many aspects of Zimbabwean day to day activities.

In fact, Esap reduced Zimbabweans to worse living standards than those that prevailed prior to independence.

Esap was followed by a further depressed economy that finally gave in around 2008. Inflation was galloping, prices were rising almost hourly.

When the local currency collapsed, bearers cheques were introduced as medium for exchange. When they failed to work, the State swallowed its pride and embraced multi-currencies in the form of rand, pula and the US dollar.

The inclusive government ushered in some form of relief. Food stuffs became available.

The supply of foreign currency slightly improved. Unsuspectingly, the nation was frog marched into the general election of July 31 2013, purportedly at the behest of Jealous Mawarire who sought his right to vote and the courts granted his will.

Prior to the dissolution of the inclusive government, parties to the inclusive government blamed lack of progress on perpetual disagreements between stakeholders.

Now that Zanu PF mustered more than two thirds majority, both in Parliament and Senate, the expectation was that developmental issues were going to take centre stage.

Nine months down the line, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. If anything, hope for employment creation, health and social amenities to all is fast fading.

Statements attributed to the Finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya and Zimra Commissioner Gershom Pasi regarding salaries freeze, point to one thing, the inability by government to properly balance its roles.

The government first and foremost revolves on its three pillars, namely, the executive, Parliament and the judiciary. Parliament enacts laws, the executive executes the laws, whilst the judiciary interprets the same laws.

Currently, the government is preoccupied by its employer role at the expense of regulatory one.

Local papers on April 11 2015 reported that government had suspended payment of bonuses to Civil Servants during 2015 and 2016. In terms of the Labour Act, employees’ conditions cannot be made worse without the employees’ consent.

One shuddering thought is, when the government leads in destroying the gains hitherto won by workers, who will defend the poor workers?
Put differently, employers in other sectors have been given light to disregard Labour Act provisions with impunity.

It is therefore not surprising that government has ignored the positions reached by parties to the Tripartite Negotiating Forum regarding labour law reforms.

It would appear the government is obsessed with liberalising the labour market (making it easy to hire and fire workers) productivity linked salaries and wages.

How does one link salaries to productivity when plant, machinery and technology is at its worst?

Power blackages are the order of the day, generators power plant and machinery, workers are hungry and demoralised over going for months without salaries.

The Herald of 15-04-2015 headline; Bonus suspension gets thumbs-up, was buttressed by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industry president, Charles Msipa who described the move as a “good, essential starting point”.
Capital had a field day over workers.

A close analysis of the current order of things would indicate that we have reverted to the Master and Servant Act era of 1934, if not worse. Collective bargaining has been replaced by directives.

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