CITY of Harare workers have given their employer a seven-day notice to strike over poor salaries and non-availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), among other grievances.
The move comes amid revelations almost half of the local authority’s employees are yet to receive their December salaries, with some having salary arrears dating back to 2015.
The Zimbabwe Urban Councils Workers Union (ZUCWU), which represents urban local authorities’ workers across the country, said they were concerned the City of Harare was not prioritising employees.
The union accused the scandal-ridden local authority of making piecemeal salary disbursements which were inconveniencing workers.
“We have applied for a strike and workers have voted and accepted that they want a strike. What has been slowing us down is the lockdown. We think that over and above our continuous engagement with the ministry of Labour and that of Local Government, if nothing fruitful comes from there we have to proceed with industrial action,” said Kudakwashe Munengiwa, the ZUCWU general secretary.
He added: “We have generated a letter which we will serve the employer on Thursday giving them a seven-day notice expiring next Friday. If nothing happens, people cannot continue to subsidise the employer going to work at their own cost when they are not being paid. It does not make sense.”
Already, those working in the water, fire and waste management sections have begun sit-ins demanding that they be given adequate PPE in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Munengiwa noted that the sit-ins were not directly related to the salary dispute, adding the union had written to the authorities emphasising the need for PPE and infection prevention control measures and training without success.
The Labour Act (Chapter 28:01) allows workers to unconditionally withdraw their labour in cases where their health is compromised or where their safety is at risk.
“So our position is clear, where workers’ health is under threat we have instructed them to withdraw their labour to the extent of the risk or the hazard. And when they are incapacitated to go to work because they don’t have the money, surely they can’t subsidize the employer by borrowing to go to work.
“In those circumstances we are saying if they don’t have money to go to work, you should not go to work. If you don’t have PPE to attend to Covid-19 patients and you are a nurse, don’t do that. And you are a nurse aid, don’t do that. If you don’t have PPE, if you are a refuse worker, a sewage worker, don’t do that. So that is our position as a union to say workers should not save lives at the expense of their own lives,” he said.
Munengiwa said interference in the affairs of the local authority by central government had compromised manpower relations, adding there was no longer executive authority at the City of Harare, which left the union in a dilemma as to who they should negotiate with.
He said this had affected the implementation of several court orders in favour of workers, among them compliance with a High Court judgment delivered last year, a deed of settlement which has not been addressed and also the issue of housing stands which the employer promised to give some of its workers in lieu of salary arrears.
He said even the union was now in sixes and sevens as it was no longer sure of who to engage.
“Today we talk to someone who is supposed to be the mayor and the other day he is not there, so that has kind of complicated the picture but as workers we will insist on our rights, we will insist on the law and we invoke the law and let politicians play politics and we will not allow that to have a bearing on the livelihoods of our members,” he said.
Workers were also unhappy with the non-disbursement of Covid-19 allowances despite these having been disbursed to the employer.
“It’s so opaque because anything to do with the remuneration of workers must be discussed at Works Council and National Employment Council, but it seems as if the employer is acting unilaterally, and that informs our reaction,” said Munengiwa.
City of Harare spokesperson Michael Chideme had not responded to questions sent to him by the time of going to print.