ZIMBABWEAN workers are reeling under deteriorating conditions underlined by serious violations of fundamental rights by parastatals, security forces and Chinese companies amid a clear pattern of intimidation, arrests and detentions, the United States embassy says in its 2022 Human Rights Report.
The report says workers’ rights in Zimbabwe have been on a free-fall, with the government clamping down on public sector unions.
While public sector workers are barred from joining trade unions, their associations have been facing attacks by security forces, despite them usually meeting correct procedure.
According to the report, strikes were commonly met with police brutality, force, and dismissals.
“The government enacted punishment and retaliatory action against teachers who participated in continued strikes regarding the right to a living wage.
“In May, the ministry of Primary and Secondary Education deducted money from the salaries of teachers who participated in a January strike, leaving some with net salaries that were the equivalent of less than one US cent. The ministry of Education suspended more than 1 220 teachers, seized the salaries of 530 teachers, and arrested others,” says the report.
For instance, in January last year, police arrested 18 teachers and Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) president Obert Masaraure for demonstrating for teacher wages to be fully paid in US dollars.
In June and July, after Artuz received the 2022 Frontline Human Rights Award, the authorities arrested Masaraure and Artuz secretary-general Robson Chere on murder charges for a man who died in 2016. A previous investigation reportedly found no foul play, therefore the latest move is viewed as an attempt to silence the union leaders.
In June last year, the Zimbabwe Professional Nurses’ Union and the Zimbabwe Nurses’ Association (Zina) were brutally quashed by police while demonstrating over a devaluation of their earnings in Zimbabwean dollars, and poor working conditions.
“The government deployed the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to monitor and contain the protests. Media alleged on June 23, ZRP officers wielding batons stormed Bindura General Hospital and indiscriminately attacked healthcare workers participating in the strike.
“Police and army members are the only legally recognized essential services employees and may not strike, but the law allows the ministry of Public Service and Labour to declare any non-essential service an essential service if a strike is deemed a danger to the population, such as one by healthcare workers,” read the report.
The report also shows government patronage in trade union activities, which is likely to affect working conditions of affiliate organisations.
“Police and state intelligence services regularly attended and monitored trade union meetings and other activities. Police or Zanu PF supporters sometimes prevented unions from holding meetings with their members and carrying out organisational activities.
“Although the law does not require unions to notify police of public gatherings, police demanded such notification. Parastatal unions were generally perceived as pro-government. The Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions was regarded the largest pro-government trade union and a rival to the ZCTU, which had a history of alignment with opposition parties,” read the report.
Chinese companies have also been under fire for breaching worker rights.
In January, multiple sources alleged Chinese-linked granite mining companies engaged in human rights abuses, poor working conditions, and violence against employees, among them Jinding Mining Company and Shanghai Haoyang Mining Investments.
For instance, according to the report, one villager reported witnessing a beating with a steel rod and the breaking of a 17-year-old’s arm for arriving late to work at the mine.
“In May, a publication reported the deaths in 2020 of three miners at Kunyu Mine in Banze were the result of unsafe working conditions. Representatives from the Progressive Mining and Allied Industries Workers Union of Zimbabwe alleged the incident was never investigated due to close ties between PRC [People’s Republic of China] enterprises and Zimbabwean authorities.
“In February, PRC-owned Freestone Mines closed a quarry following a public backlash when investigative journalists documented labour rights abuses and attempts to bypass environmental laws in companies owned by PRC parastatals and private PRC citizens,” read the report.