FLORENCE TARUVINGA (FT), broke the glass ceiling when she was elected Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president in October, beating Peter Mutasa after polling 73 votes to his 59, thereby becoming the first woman to lead the labour movement.
Taruvinga is a member of the Energy Sector Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ESWUZ). Her rise was controversial though, as she was accused of leading a ZCTU faction aligned to Zanu PF, which was allegedly bankrolled by businessman Kuda Tagwirei.
The NewsHawks (NH) caught up with Taruvinga and asked her about the alleged Zanu PF links, as well as her game plan in addressing a plethora of challenges affecting workers. She denies being a Zanu PF pawn. Below is the interview:
NH: Congratulations on being voted the ZCTU president?
FT: In the workers’ struggle there are no congratulations. What we say is that the struggle continues. The ZCTU conference elevated me from being the first vice-president to become the president of ZCTU. I am grateful for that, as that will give me leverage in pursuing the workers’ mandate with the clarity that it deserves.
NH: You are the first female president. How did you manage to break new ground?
FT: The ZCTU is an equal opportunity organisation, where we focus more on merit and clarity in pursuing the collective working class agenda. My election and elevation as the first female president of the trade union organisation are ample evidence that the organisation has come of age and it practices what it preaches.
As an organisation we believe in gender equity and equality. Workers this time around decided to give the opportunity to a woman comrade because women are known as peace builders, fighters, unifiers, consistent and, above all, are determined to achieve no matter the obstacles.
NH: Can you share with us your brief background?
FT: l am a young working woman aged 33, employed by Zesa. In 2010, I organised the young workers in the energy industry on the importance of joining trade unions and making them know of workers’ rights.
In 2012, I pioneered in registration of ESWUZ union and organised in all regions recruiting members. In 2013, I was trained by the ZCTU as a shop steward and between 2013 and 2019, I was interim national women’s chairperson for Energy Sector Workers’ Union Of Zimbabwe and a woman councillor to the ZCTU.
In October 2016, I was elected to be the first vice-president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. On 6 March 2018, I was fired from Zesa for demonstrating against non-compliance of collective bargaining agreements and bad corporate governance before being reinstated on 11 December 2019.
NH: There were several allegations levelled against your ascendency, ranging from state-sponsored vote buying linked to businessman Kuda Tagwirei. What is your response to this?
FT: It is unfortunate that some colleagues in the struggle decided to peddle those unfounded allegations on my person as a way to try to dent my candidature which they have failed to prove up until now. But l accepted it as part of the game of politics, and put it behind.
However, I never in my whole career as a trade unionist ever imagined a day would come when unionists would go to those lengths just to retain political power and control of the organisation. It is however gratifying that the workers and trade unions, who had known my history, supported me to stand in the elections and stood with me throughout the mud-slinging and unfounded allegations.
Since the elective conference, we have moved on towards implementing the workers’ mandate. We remain unmoved and unperturbed by the manufactured rumours and allegations.
NH: Your new leadership is said to have taken a pro-government approach. Is this true?
FT: Our approach has been based on consultation, research, dialogue, feedback and obviously action. Our action or intentions must be driven by our constituency, who are the workers. We are mandate-driven as an organisation. Workers will indicate and dictate what they want.
NH: How have the first months in office been?
FT: The first few months in office have been very challenging and exciting. As the new leadership, we have decided to go back to basics in an effort to reconnect with our affiliate trade unions and their membership.
We have embarked on countrywide labour forums, where we took the opportunity to meet with shop-floor workers, district and regional structures. The meetings we conducted around the country gave us enough firepower to fuel and direct the workers’ struggle towards achievement of decent work, better working conditions and the US dollar-based salaries.
We have also engaged with employers and government, just to touch base on the fast deteriorating social and economic conditions in the country.
To sum it all up, in the past few months, we, as the workers’ leadership, have noted that we need to roll up our sleeves and get to do real work because the issues that confront the working class are huge, but not insurmountable. With enough political will, Zimbabwe can be great again.
NH: As the new leader, what are your priorities in the coming five years?
FT: As the president of ZCTU you must note that l do not operate in isolation of our policies, strategic plan and other policy guidelines. It is, however, my wish and that of my general council to improve relations that exist between employers, government and workers. In our view, this can be achieved through honest and frank discussions, as far as identifying impediments to national development and growth for our country.
It is our wish to see the Tripartite Negotiating Forum discussing and recommending issues to cabinet that go beyond rhetoric. Currently, the TNF Act does not bind the cabinet to accept recommendations of the TNF, and that in itself requires serious redress, because besides the existence of the TNF Act, everything else is rendered useless.
It is the mandate of my leadership to ensure that workers start to earn in US dollars, as it is the only currency of value in the country at the present moment.
Business has rejected the local currency, and the government is following suit, it is therefore our considered position that workers should not continue to be paid in a non-existent currency. We are intending to intensify our efforts for dialogue to achieve that intention.
In the event that it fails, we will certainly move to campaigns that will ensure that we get that which the workers are demanding for. As guided by our ZCTU congress resolutions, we intend to push for the finalisation of labour law reform, as well as its realignment with the country’s constitution.
NH: The general populace feels that they have suffered enough due to poor salaries. What is your take on this outcry and what do you intend to do?
FT: Indeed, we agree with our members that the salaries have become a mere pittance to workers. Being a worker, l feel the pain.
With my salary, l am unable to make ends meet and l believe that is the situation with the majority of workers in this country. Our proposal is to go for dollarisation in an effort to restore the purchasing power of workers which has been lost from October 2018.
NH: Formal employment has also been drastically going down and, in the process, affecting labour activism in the country. How do you intend to address this gap?
FT: Our view as labour is that the government needs to create a conducive environment for both local and international investment. Unfortunately in a country fraught with policy inconsistencies most investors would shy away from risking and investing their capital.
There is a need to set our principles right. Most investors would be interested in investing in a country that respects labour laws and promotes social dialogue processes. If these are not respected and not in place, it would be difficult to attract any meaningful investment.
We are losing a lot of members going into the informal economy, it is our call to the government that it should recognise the informal economy and also move towards assisting and providing policy support for the growth of the informal economy.
In our case, the informal economy has become the economy. It is therefore imperative that the government and, in particular, local governments, be prepared to harness the low-hanging fruits by supporting and capacitating the informal economy rather than to be fighting never-ending battles with workers in the informal economy.
NH: The ZCTU played a pivotal role in the formation of the political opposition in Zimbabwe. But we have witnessed countless breakaways from the original MDC. So which side is labour backing?
FT: The ZCTU is an independent trade union organisation that is controlled and guided internally by its affiliates. The affiliates who make up ZCTU do not organise workers along partisan politics. Workers are free and are encouraged to belong to any political parties of their choice.
As a trade union we are very much interested in seeing the political manifestos of all the political parties. Our interests stem from the fact that we do not have permanent friends, but we have permanent interests.
We will encourage workers to support a political party that identifies with the struggle of the suffering workers, peasants and students.
NH: What is your take on efforts by the government to restore the value of the Zimdollar and promote its wider usage?
FT: The employers and government have slowly and certainly discarded use of the bond note. Workers are on the receiving end as they remain as the only ones who accept the RTGS/bond note as a measure of value and trade.
However, this has made workers much poorer. Our view is that the employer should now move towards restoring workers’ dignity and respect by paying them in the US dollar, which is the medium of exchange today.
NH: Any plans to embark on industrial action?
FT: Workers and the general populace are truly agitated with the prevailing socio-economic environment. As the leadership, we are trying our level best to control the situation, but both employers and government know exactly what needs to be done.
In any event, if the situation continues to be as it is, workers are already beaten and they are down. At this stage we can safely say that workers have nothing more to lose, as they have lost much more.
NH: What are your last words to the workers and citizens of Zimbabwe?
FT: As labour, we have been known for the popular adage “It is darkest before dawn”. As your president and leader, we believe that all is not lost; with concerted efforts we can restore Zimbabwe to its glory days.
We need a proper development paradigm, we need a shift to addressing the real macro-economic fundamentals for the country to move ahead. I will lead the ZCTU team in engaging with government and employers, if that fails l shall give you the clarion call for action in which we shall require the support of everyone.