Grave violations of trade union rights in Zimbabwe

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'Zimbabwe: Lessons for South Africa and Southern Africa' - Speech by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU (Feb. 2001) 

In Internet
Zimbabwe Government Online  

afrol News, 12 June - he International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) yesterday expressed its "utter dismay and frustration" in a letter to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, over the continuous violation of trade union rights. Mugabe should resign, syndicalists agree.

In this respect, the South African trade union federation COSATU, affiliated to the ICFTU, has demand for the resignation of President Mugabe given that he is indifferent to the call for action to restore confidence amongst investors.

- The collusion of the government with those perpetuating violation of trade union rights is gravely endangering economic development, said COSATU secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi. COSATU has further called for early election as "the country is on the brink of collapse".

As the International Labour Conference continues in Geneva until June 21, trade union organisations will insist on full respect for workers' and trade union rights, and demand to see serious efforts by the government to end the cycle of trade union rights violations that has further intensified during the past two years.

The letter to President Mugabe, signed by the ICFTU General Secretary on behalf of "156 million workers" worldwide, expressed "its utter dismay and frustration over the continued violation of trade union rights in your country." It urged Mugabe to "to take the necessary measures to put a stop to these violations and to make sure that the rights of the workers and the trade unions are respected."

The letter also included a "shocking list" of violations of trade union rights in Zimbabwe. Starting in December 2000, the list includes 37 individual, grave cases of such violations, mainly focusing on "Factory Invasions and Lawlessness in Zimbabwe". 

Examples of farm invasions are also mentioned, as they usually had led to the eviction of rural workers from their houses and job. Also factory invasions were threatening the rights of workers and their employment. Several cases of outright robbery by so-called "war vets" are referred to. "War vets", under government and police protection, also pose a threat to the Zimbabwean trade union, the ZCTU, as they were trying to gain control over Zimbabwean workers. The ZCTU is accused by "war vets" of being an extension of the opposition. 

The letter also mentions various attacks on the main Zimbabwean opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). "War vets" had targeted workers, teachers, judges, organisations, trade unions, etc., believed to be sympathetic to the MDC. In April 2001, for example, hundreds of farm workers and their families in Shamva fled after an attack by 150 ruling party militias "demanding they hand over MDC t-shirts and party cards. The militias searched the workers' homes but no t-shirts or cards were found, but they still proceeded to beat the workers with iron rods, knobkerries and baton sticks."

The South African and international trade unions have however been careful not giving their overt support to the MDC opposition. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai himself was a trade union leader (ZCTU) before becoming a politician. In a February 2001 speech, COSATU leader Vavi dismissed all "speculations, rumours and conspiracy theories" about a cooperation between the MDC and COSATU. 

- All this, said Vavi, "is not true. COSATU carefully studied the development of the MDC and indeed it is movement that has brought a breath of fresh air in Zimbabwean politics." However, referring to the many union-inspired parties in the region, Vavi recalled how "some of these movements quickly turned against the constituency that brought into power - the workers. Therefore, COSATU for reasons cited above including the record of union-inspired political parties took a position not to support the MDC but study closely developments within the Party particularly whether its programme advances the interest of the working class."

As Zimbabwe is a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the government theoretically is obliged to guarantee the rights of workers and their representative organisations. The ICFTU letter refers to this fact when demanding actions by President Mugabe.

Sources: Based on ICFTU, COSATU and afrol archives

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