We must think beyond wages — President

Source: We must think beyond wages — President | The Herald

We must think beyond wages — President
President Mnangagwa

Below we reproduce an address by the Head of State and Government, and Commander-in-Chief for the Zimbabwe Defence Forces His Excellency the President Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa to mark International Workers’ Day

Fellow Zimbabweans,

Today is MAY DAY, a day which we, alongside the United Nations, have dedicated to honouring workers. The United Nations set aside this day out of a recognition of the critical role which the workforce plays worldwide, be it in families, in our communities and in our nation. 

Indeed outside what God created in the beginning, all things great and small, come from human creativity, labour and effort. At the centre of that universal creative effort is the worker: those men and women we today honour and celebrate.

Happy Workers’ Day, Dear Zimbabweans!

I address you at a time when labour relations and labour protection have assumed grave, life-threatening dimensions worldwide. Whereas in the past we used to worry about fair wages for a day’s work, or worry about skills and unemployment; yes, worry about the life of a worker beyond its active, productive phase, that is, in retirement, today we face a menace of unimaginable proportions.

We face an overbearing global threat from a highly infectious, contagious disease we now know as coronavirus. The pandemic continues to blight millions of lives, claiming hundreds of thousands worldwide. As I address you, more than 3,2 million cases have been reported worldwide; and of these, over 225 000 have since succumbed. Recoveries stand at slightly over 1 million worldwide. What breaks my heart is that many from these staggering numbers of infections and deaths draw from the global workforce, prominently our workers in the health sector.

In our case, infections now stand at 40, with four deaths recorded since the outbreak, and five recoveries so far. By global comparison, we are still fortunate, even though the pain from lost loved ones is great and as acute as anywhere in the affected world. The pandemic is real, and its spread is extremely rapid. We therefore are at great risk.

As your President, I wake up every morning, agonising over the daunting prospect of an ailing workforce, or to a frightful, yet real grim chance of one more worker, having succumbed to the pandemic.

We have to avoid this at all cost. We cannot afford any more loss of life than we have already borne. This is why your Government has had to take very tough, yet unavoidable measures, to safeguard life. Those measures may have brought our nation to a complete standstill, and our economy to virtual shutdown. The challenges for you, our workers, and for your families, have grown bigger and harsher. You have had to endure them with utmost pain.

There is more to the virus in relation to the worker. Not only has it stolen more lives, but daily threatens your jobs and thus your livelihoods. Families are in distress, as is also our entire economy. 

The greater part of the workforce stays at home, often without income. By extension, social life has been on total lockdown, making life very difficult for everyone. I empathise greatly, but dread the inevitable horror of any let-up. We have to stay the course until we flatten the curve, slow down the spread, and eventually overtake the pandemic.

Today, no one can plausibly argue that capital alone creates wealth or that technology alone manufactures wealth.  Indeed that natural resources, important as they may be, cannot alone pass for wealth.

That, too, means at the heart of national policy must be the sustenance of this key cog in the social production of life itself, namely the worker. The worker must be able to reproduce his and her life so he continues to work for humanity. That means giving him a living wage, one by which he can sustain himself and his family. This has to be the primary goal of any government, including our own. True, we often come short of this key goal, but the commitment to support and sustain the worker should and must always be there.

Since last year, Government has continued to adjust your earnings, with a view to making them living wages. Yet the goal of taming inflation and the general cost of living, has largely remained elusive, an ungraspable mirage. Elusive, because of the successive droughts which continue to visit us, making our nation a net importer of food. Elusive because of punitive, illegal sanctions which continue to beset us, closing possibilities for our economy. And now, even more elusive, because of the global Covid-19 pandemic which has thrown us and the rest of the world, off rail, into a severe recession. Predictably, our economy will close the year in the negative territory. So, too, will economies of the world, including the strongest ones.

For us, agriculture, which is the mainstay of our economy, and the biggest employer of our workforce, must recover and be sustained, to make us a food-secure nation. Government continues to unveil a number of initiatives, including Smart Agriculture, Presidential Input Support Scheme and a greater thrust on irrigation development, to ensure precious jobs in the agricultural sector are secured and expanded. We must step up irrigation, both small and large-scale, for climate-proofed agriculture, and thus create jobs. We have targeted 80 000 hectares for irrigation under A2, and another 20 000 hectares under A1 and for communal areas.

In the interim, and in view of the successive lean years we have had, Government continues to import more food for distribution to all our people, including to workers and their families, be they in rural or urban areas. We have expanded food distribution into urban areas to take care of our workforce especially in these distressful times. The silver lining is that the prices of maize on the global grain market continue to soften, with some of our neighbours who had better rains than us, reporting significant surpluses.

Apart from agriculture, the mining sector is key to overall job creation. Even at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, we shielded this critical sector which kept many families going, and our economy afloat. As with agriculture, there is lots of self-employment, principally in the subsector of artisanal mining. Now that security concerns in that sub-sector have been stabilised, Government will move resolutely to ensure clearer claims and mining rights, and to support artisanal miners financially, technologically and by way of better marketing mechanisms, especially in the area of gold production.