John Manzongo At the workplace
Today is Workers’ Day, a day meant to celebrate the most important asset in any productive nation worldwide.
With many workers having nothing to smile about on their day, May 1 seems to have lost relevance and its importance. There simply is no Workers’ Day to talk about except that it is just another day where workers get to rest during the week.
For starters there are no vibrant workers’ unions or workers representative committees to talk about. The ones that exist are aligned to certain political parties, secretly serving the interests of the powerful members of society.
In our case there are two main trade unions, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU), which are aligned to two opposing parties.
One really wonders why, if the interest of trade unions is to represent workers, the splits and why representatives align themselves to political parties? Who really is powerful – the representatives or the workers?
Why are workers being dragged into something that does not benefit them at all?
It is always said united we stand, divided we fall.
Workers really need to consider this saying if they ever want to regain the power and recognition that they so much deserve.
With a divided workforce, employers secretly rejoice for they know that there is nothing meaningful that can come from divided people.
I know many workers cherish the old days. Back then, workers from different parts of the country would flock in their thousands to celebrate their day.
Being a worker those days was just great. Salaries would sustain workers until the next payday but today the salary “vanishes” before one even gets paid.
I overheard some workers discussing yesterday how they were finding it difficult to raise school fees for their children when schools reopen this month.
It’s not only fees that workers are worried about, there are also groceries, rent, transport, utility bills yet there is no sign that there is going to be a change in their situation.
Today what sort of message are they going to be told that can change their plight?
Back in the good days, I recall that May 1 would have a lot of entertainment lined up, where workers were treated to real- life dramas of what happens at their workplaces. The Honourable Minister of Labour would bring a message that would liven up the hearts of workers but nowadays, no such thing exists.
Workers who negotiate for better salaries and better working conditions are now treated or viewed as enemies.
Employers quickly jump to accord such elements harsh penalties whenever they are caught on the wrong side of the law. This is a way of silencing them.
In many Western countries there is virtually no worker to talk about yet in Africa we still enjoy a lot of job opportunities, in Europe many jobs are now computerised or are reduced to self- service.
I noted with great concern that in one of the European countries, the workplace is fast dwindling, many jobs are now computerised or mechanised.
For instance, there are no longer fuel attendants at service stations, it’s self-service, tollgates are electronically controlled.
In one media institution I noted that the only place where workers are needed is the news gathering, writing and sub-editing. The page inserting up to packaging and loading of the newspapers is mechanised.
The workplace of today is characterised by poor working conditions, poor wages, exploitation of contract workers, students on attachment and abuse of workers pension and medical aid contributions. Many companies are exploiting workers just because the job space is fast dwindling.
Some workers are not covered by company social security schemes. Female contract workers tend to be highly vulnerable to abuse at the workplace by male bosses in the hope of retaining the contract or getting a permanent position in the near future.
Many companies are mainly concerned about getting positive results from their workers without trying to find out what workers expect from the company.
Revelations of monthly salaries amounting to over US$230 000 stand out as one the greatest scandals ever witnessed in our country a few months back.
Companies are looking at ways of how they can minimise employment costs and this has seen them merging departments.
In converged workplaces, employees are seen doing one or more tasks while remaining at the same salary level but the company will be making wide profit margins.
When signing employment contracts, many workers are usually too excited and barely read through the small print before putting pen to paper.
There is always a clause that says: “The company reserves the right to assign you any other duties as might be necessary.” This clause not only empowers the employer but also weakens worker’s bargaining powers. Under a situation of convergence it makes sense that workers’ salaries are raised by at least by 50 percent because it is the same workforce that is used to do duties that might have required additional workers.
I know Government has a lot on its hands to be closely monitoring what is happening at the workplace, even its own workers. Their intervention is greatly needed to ensure that our nation can return to the old days where workers were so much valued.
I recall how the then Minister of Labour, Eddison Zvobgo, intervened in a strike involving farm workers at a certain white-owned farm.
I recall how in that video clip, he personally instructed the white farmer on what he did not want as the minister responsible for workers.