BY Desmond Chingarande
The Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) yesterday vowed to press ahead with the strike to force employers to pay in Us dollars dominated salaries but the police said they would crush any “illegal gathering”.
The labour body has called for flash lunch-hour protests at workplaces starting today until the government awards them US$ salaries.
“Our focus is only on how do we make sure we are remunerated in a stable currency, how do we push for the stabilisation of prices and our safety in the face of COVID-19,” secretary-general Japhet Moyo said yesterday.
Recent protests have been met with police and army heavy-handedness, with many reports of abductions, torture being recorded by opposition and civic groups.
Past protests have also resulted in loss of lives as the embattled President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration fended off any threat to his stranglehold on power.
The January 14, 2019 anti-fuel price hike protests organised by the ZCTU resulted in 17 fatalities, according to reports by human rights groups, while six people were killed by the military during post-electoral protests of August 1, 2018.
Mnangagwa has been under pressure from the international community, including Western countries, the African Union, the United Nations as well as churches, to respect human rights.
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said the law enforcement agents had not been notified of the strike and warned that the police would “deal with security threats”, raising fears the protesters could be met with brutality.
“Our constitutional mandate is to protect people from those who want to cause disturbances. People must do their movements freely. Anyone who wants to break the law will be dealt with,” Nyathi said.
“As the police, I am not aware of any notice from the ZCTU countrywide. Our law says they must notify regulating authority, so we are prepared to maintain law and order in the country.”
NewsDay understands the police will, starting today, lockdown major cities by beefing up roadblocks and restricting movements to thwart any protests.
Since Friday, the number of police officers at checkpoints has been increasing and the situation is set to worsen today ahead of the ZCTU proposed protests.
But Moyo insisted the workers would defy government, accusing it of using security apparatus against genuine constitutional demands raised by the workers.
“The State has always used a security apparatus against genuine constitutional issues that workers raise. Workers would devise ways of achieving their goals even with many checkpoints around the CBD [central business district] or industrial areas,” he said.
Moyo said their agenda largely focused on a decent and stable currency.
“Depending on the sector context, the agenda is very clear; pay us in a stable currency, stabilise prices and protect us from the COVID-19 pandemic. To achieve that, it would depend on other factors including industry context and of course how we execute the plan going forward,” the ZCTU boss added.
The labour body has been demanding the payment of wages and salaries in United States dollars, saying the economy had dollarised as every service was now being paid for in US dollars.
“The rising inflation and prices have had a devastating impact on ordinary citizens. Incomes, including pensions, have been eroded, condemning many to abject poverty. All this leaves most people unable to pay for critical services, be it education, housing, healthcare or transport,” Moyo said.
He said the workers had already reached a deadlock with the government on the issue.
“The government has failed to provide social assistance, social insurance; it failed to make positive labour market interventions and provide social support and care since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The demands can be reduced into written demands on placards at workplaces,” Moyo said.