By Prince Tongogara
Harare, January 07, 2014 – Zimbabwean industries on Monday resumed full scale operations after a festive season with most workers facing the same pre-Christmas challenges such as delayed payment of salaries, closing firms, biting liquidity crunch and a currency losing its purchasing value after the introduction of a raft of new taxes during the national budget presentation.
The festivities of the Christmas season masked the reality of most people struggling to raise first term school fees for their children, the looming threat of job losses as government reviews labour laws and the liquidity challenges still unresolved.
Queues at ailing indigenous banks have started to re-emerge as parents jostle to make withdrawals to pay for school and tuition fees and to purchase other essentials for their school and college going children.
One such parent is Peter Chimufombo from Chitungwiza.
“Everyday I wake up early to join the queue at my bank as I am trying to withdraw school fees for my form one child,” Chimufombo told Radio VOP.
For civil servants the economic prospects are not getting any brighter as negotiations for salary increments are yet to be concluded despite that we are already into the new year. The civil servants’ first salary is expected by the end of next week.
However, the prospect of a substantive pay rise as promised by the Zanu PF government vanished with the national budget presentation which showed government expenditure remaining at US$3.5billion in 2014 from US$3.4billion in the past year.
Former Finance Minister and leader of the opposition Mavambo-Kusile Dawn party Simba Makoni said 2014 was going to be a difficult year for most Zimbabweans with no solutions insight to arrest the biting economic crisis.
“Unfortunately, all indications are that, for the largest majority of us, life will remain as difficult in 2014, as it was in 2013; if not worse,” Makoni said.
More than 700 companies were liquidated in 2013 throwing thousands of workers out of employment and joining the ranks of millions now eking out a living in informal sector. There is no indication that the closure of industries will stop in 2014 after Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa indicated it ‘was a dead economy’ with a new ‘informal economy emerging’ in its place.
The workers’ position is further compromised considering Chinamasa’s statement that the government was reviewing labour laws to make them more flexible in hiring of employees.
“I am, therefore, calling upon my colleague, the Minister responsible for Labour, Honourable (Nicholas) Goche, to seriously consider amendments to the Labour Act that relates work to productivity,” Chinamasa said. “It is also necessary that we introduce in our labour laws, flexibility in the hiring of workers, as well as alignment of wage adjustments to labour productivity,” he added.
International Socialist Organisation (ISO) leader and labour lawyer Munyaradzi Gwisai said Chinamasa’s statement proved the Zanu PF government was pursuing the same neo-liberal policies that were introduced under the coalition government of 2009-2013.
“Government has become a willing servant of capital and it’s ridiculous to say labour laws need to be made flexible considering that 85 percent of workers are earning below Poverty Datum Line (PDL) and over 5 000 workers were retrenched in the past 13 months alone,” Gwisai said.
Lives of the majority of poor Zimbabweans struggling with average salaries of $200 far below the PDL of $540 per month will get tougher in 2014 as the government accelerates implementation of pre-paid meters for electricity and water in high density suburbs.
Analysts warn that 2014 may be a year of instability if workers choose the option of industrial action to address their concerns.
AfriAsiaKingdom analyst Anymore Taruvinga said the labour law reforms while necessary will torch confrontation between the state and unions.
“The labour law changes will not be welcome by most trade unions, but make business sense. Labour should be rewarded in relation to its productivity and poor performers should not be protected by the law,” Taruvinga said.
Gwisai on the other hand called for workers to defend their rights from the predatory state now beholden to capital.
From whichever way one looks at things, the government has to urgently find policy solutions to these myriad of problems besetting the economy.
It remains to be seen if President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF administration can brighten up the people’s lives in this looming economic gloom.