Zimbabwe’s hard-pressed and poorly paid civil servants can now exploit some provisions in the country’s new governance charter to stage crippling work boycotts as such action has now been legalized.
Labour Court President, Custom Kachambwa, said under the new constitution which was passed into law early this year civil servants are now entitled to embark on strike with the exception of members of the uniformed forces.
Kachambwa told paralegals attending a joint International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) organized workshop held in Nyanga recently that said Section 65 (3) of the new constitution guarantees all workers the right to participate in a job action and or strike except members of the security forces and some civil servants who offer essential services.
“Civil servants according to the new constitution are no longer excluded in participating in collective job action, they can now actually go on strike except members of the uniformed forces and those in essential services,” he said.
Kachambwa said it was up to workers including civil servants to claim and exercise the constitutionally guaranteed right.
“It is up to us to ensure that when the right is not given we claim it. The Labour Act should be in line with the constitution. Not every civil servant’s job is in essential service. What is the reason that anybody can put forward to exclude civil servants alone. Making tea for the Minster or Director is not an essential service,” Kachambwa said.
Struggling public service workers particularly teachers earn paltry salaries far below the Poverty Datum Line (PDL) pegged above $500.
Already, labour unions among them the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the Progressive Teachers Unions have already petitioned the government to improve teachers’ salaries to match the PDL level and improve their working conditions.
ZCTU Secretary-General, Japhet Moyo recently warned the incoming government to brace for wild cat strikes if it does not hike workers’ salaries in both the public and private sector.
“We are going to work with anyone who comes into government as long as they address the workers’ demands. But we want to warn Zanu PF which is going to be in government that if it ignores workers you will be in trouble,” Moyo said.
In a bid to ward off protests, President Mugabe recently told soldiers during commemorations to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces that his new government will review salaries for civil servants who include teachers, nurses and those for soldiers and the police.
The ZCTU has had several run-ins with President Mugabe’s administration over staging of work boycotts. However, the labour union has in recent years been weakened by internal fighting which led to the formation of a rival labour union led by the federation’s former President, Lovemore Matombo.