THE Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has been criticised by its affiliates for misleading the International Labour Organisation (ILO) at a meeting in Switzerland this week by telling the body that Zimbabwe no longer has a bad human rights record and is now upholding freedoms of assembly, as well as association.
The ZCTU’s claims have resulted in Zimbabwe being struck off the list of 24 countries that were on the agenda for deliberations on their worsening situations.
The announcement that Zimbabwe had been struck of the ILO agenda was made by ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo in a WhatsApp group of the trade union’s general council members.
Part of the message reads: “Further to our earlier brief regarding the provisional listing of Zimbabwe before the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) please be advised that after negotiations between the Employers’ representatives and Workers’ representatives, the final list was unveiled on Monday and Zimbabwe was not one of the 24 countries that made the final list.”
The development has since triggered anger among affiliates of the ZCTU who are now calling upon ZCTU president Florence Taruvinga and secretary-general Moyo to step down over what they describe as betrayal of the workers’ struggle.
Taruvinga and Moyo flew out of the country to Geneva with the delegation of government led by Labour minister Paul Mavima on Sunday last week for the ILO meeting from 12 to 15 June. Also in the delegation was the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions secretary-general Kennias Shamuyarira.
For the first time, they flew business class and the trip was funded by the Zimbabwean government. Speculation is now rife that Taruvinga and Moyo could have been compromised by the government to misrepresent the situation in Zimbabwe so that the country is held in high esteem by the ILO and subsequently removed from the watch list.
Commenting on the development, Thomas Masvingwe, the general secretary of the National Energy Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe, called on Taruvinga and Moyo to step down.
“If the elected president cannot uphold the integrity of the ZCTU, then she must step down. A president who outsources leadership of the ZCTU to ZLC and ZFTU is not fit and proper person to lead the labour movement,” he said.
Marvelous Tawombera, the ZCTU Young Workers chairperson, said what was worrying on the development is that there was no formal communication that was given to affiliates by the trade union’s leadership regarding their visit to the ILO meeting and what they would present there.
“Formal communication was supposed to be done before the trip to the meeting,” he said.
The ILO, when it listed Zimbabwe among the 24 countries with bad human rights records, had already done its homework and was ready to have Zimbabwe put on the agenda for debate.
The Direct Contacts Mission (DCM) of the international body which visited the country in April 2022 following a request by its Conference Committee on the Application of Standards at its 108th Session (June 2019), picked up several issues of violations against the labour movement in Zimbabwe.
During the visit, it picked up the case against the then ZCTU president Peter Mutasa who was arrested in 2019; the case of secretary for gender of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union (Artuz) Sheilla Chirisamhuru, alleged to have been arrested and tortured; alleged acts of violence against Artuz leaders following protests in 2020; as well as the repression against workers’ protests in the health sector and several other instances of violation of civil liberties in the country that took place in 2020.
The committee noted with deep concern allegations that in January 2022, members of Artuz were attacked and arrested while being engaged in a protest action outside the National Social Security Authority office building where a National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC) meeting was taking place between the government and trade unions.
It documented information that as the teachers gathered at the venue, 16 leaders of Artuz were arrested, including president Obert Masaraure, only to be released on bail six days later.
The committee further picked up that Artuz secretary-general Robson Chere was arrested in July 2022 by the police on controversial charges of the murder of a colleague in 2016, despite the fact that a court investigation into the death of that colleague concluded there was no criminal act involved.
The committee noted that the arrest of the secretary-general of Artuz occurred a week after the release on bail of the Artuz president, who is also facing similar criminal charges.
The committee requested the government to provide without delay its detailed comments on all these serious allegations of violation of trade union rights and civil liberties which were then supposed to be discussed at this week’s meeting.
But the ZCTU has inexplicably requested that Zimbabwe be struck off the agenda. Several other issues like use of repressive laws like the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (Mopa) and the government’s stifling of collective bargaining in the Tripartite Negotiating Forum had been picked by the ILO and scheduled for discussion before the latest development that struck Zimbabwe off the agenda.
In a Press statement, Taruvinga said they had requested Zimbabwe to be struck off the list of 24 countries on red line because there were worse nations than Zimbabwe which could have been discussed.
“The issues which had seen Zimbabwe been listed together with other 24 countries was that of human rights trampling and failure to respect freedom of association and assembly. However, we highlighted that there were countries with worse situations so that is why Zimbabwe was struck off the list. We however talked of the failing local currency that is affecting Zimbabwe,” she said in her defence.