VICE-PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa was yesterday forced to address an almost empty Rufaro Stadium when Zimbabwean workers and vendors boycotted a government-organised Workers’ Day commemoration event, despite the order by Zanu PF to shut down all vending sites and small-scale businesses in Harare as it sought to commandeer people to the belated International Labour Day event.
Even the presence of music icons Sulumani Chimbetu and Jah Prayzah could not pull the anticipated bumper crowd.
In contrast, on Sunday, the opposition-aligned Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions recorded a full house when thousands attended its Workers’ Day commemorations at Gwanzura Stadium in Highfield.
In his address to less than 1 000 people in attendance, mostly members of the uniformed forces, Mnangagwa admitted that government should do more to incentivise workers and change the current demotivating working environment.
The poor turnout could be attributed to a NewsDay story yesterday which pre-empted government’s plot to close all vending sites in the city and frog-march vendors to the commemorations.
The pro-government media had, however, claimed that yesterday’s event would be an all-inclusive Workers’ Day, which came as government was planning to distribute $5 million for business start-ups to fired workers.
Mnangagwa pledged several reforms to the labour laws and described labour as “undoubtedly a critical ingredient of production”.
The Vice-President also said government was making all efforts to ensure that workers affected by the July 17, 2015 Supreme Court ruling allowing employers to fire employees solely on three-month notice would be provided with funds to start their own small businesses.
“Following the massive job terminations in the aftermath of the July 17, 2015 judgment, government committed to address the plight of the affected workers through facilitating their empowerment,” he said.
“To this end, government has to date disbursed $5 million to the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Company to provide capital to the affected employees. Access to this fund means greater access to decent work. As a way of implementing the decent work agenda, government, through the National Social Security Authority, is working on modalities of establishing a National Health Insurance Scheme, which will ensure universal health coverage for the formal and informal sectors as well as vulnerable groups in society.”
Mnangagwa added: “Turning to the housing challenges, the prevailing high interest rates on loans and mortgages make it virtually impossible for low-income workers to own decent accommodation. In response, government will, during the course of the year, launch a National Building Society, which will improve accessibility to affordable housing for low-income workers.”
He said government was concerned about the ongoing inconveniences resulting from the current liquidity crunch in the banking sector.
Apex Council leader Cecilia Alexander urged government to speed up the harmonisation of labour laws with the new Constitution.
She said the payment of pensions should be timely, adding that civil servants should have low-cost housing schemes set up for them.
Meanwhile, Harare Municipality Workers’ Union leader Cosmas Bungu applauded Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere for suspending Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni, claiming the latter was “incompetent”.
Several ministers, including Labour minister Prisca Mupfumira, her deputy Tapiwa Matangaidze, Kasukuwere, Sports minister Makhosini Hlongwane, Harare Provincial Affairs minister Miriam Chikukwa, Minister of State in Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko’s Office Tabitha Kanengoni-Malinga and Health deputy minister Aldrin Musiiwa, were in attendance.