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ZCTU demands scientific review of Covid-19 impact

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ZIMBABWE currently does not have credible statistics on the number of job losses resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic after the government turned down an offer to conduct a comprehensive study on the impact of the pandemic on the labour market, the country’s largest labour union has said.

BERNARD MPOFU

Economic activity almost came to a standstill last April after President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced strict regulations to contain the respiratory ailment that has killed more than a million people across the globe.

Tourism sector was one of the hardest hit sectors as airlines were grounded to contain the spread of the disease.

Official figures show that as at 1 March 2021, Zimbabwe’s cumulative Covid-19 cases stood at 36 115, with 32 905 recoveries and 1 463 deaths.

Zimbabwe National Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Peter Mutasa told The NewsHawks the government rejected a proposal by the union to engage a local think-tank in collecting data on the impact of the pandemic.

“When we had the first wave in early 2020, we had a Tripartite Negotiating Forum meeting with the minister of Labour, minister of Finance and Economic Development and other line ministries as well as business and labour,” Mutasa said.

“As labour, we proposed that we need to have clear, verifiable and reliable labour market information during this Covid-19 pandemic. So, we even suggested and offered for the TNF to utilise our Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (Ledriz) for them to assist the TNF to come up with a model of collecting information. The research institute even crafted the questionnaires that were supposed to be used.

“Our approach was that we are at an advantage because we have national employment councils around all sectors, so it was so simple to collect data per sector and it was going to be easy for us. Unfortunately and, as expected, the government did not take that seriously. Our government does not depend on evidence-based policymaking. So, they rejected that and, up to now, we don’t have information. Any statistics or information that we are getting is anecdotal.”

Mutasa said while some economic sectors such as banking and retail had remained somehow resilient to the effects of Covid-19, Zimbabwe’s economic outlook remains gloomy. The authorities in Harare are however optimistic that the economy will recover from two successive years of contraction.

“The impact is quite serious. Firstly from the first lockdown, workers lost employment and some workers lost income. You would recall that the government of Zimbabwe was unlike other governments like Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. Zimbabwe did not come up with policies that ensured that there is job protection and income protection,” Mutasa said.

“The other component is that workers also had no social or psychological support. We have had cases where workers were reporting that they are not well; they are suffering from mental illness. So that is another area that the country has not really looked at. Because of loss of jobs, loss of income and also the new order where people were no longer moving around, a lot of people were affected mentally. The other aspect where we saw workers being affected was in terms of civic and political rights. Workers were brutalised in some cases by the police and the military especially during the first lockdown.”

Just this week, the Restaurant Operators Association of Zimbabwe raised the red flag on the state of the sector. The association said most businesses are teetering on the brink of collapse due to Covid-19 regulations which stifled economic activity.

“But now as we open the economy, the biggest issue that is confronting the labour market as a whole is job losses. Many companies are not going to get out of this carnage easily and many are going to streamline, they are going to reduce their headcount. So, in almost all sectors, workers are facing job losses including sectors that are doing well,” Mutasa added.

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