ZEWU President’s Congress Speech

Honorable NEC members,

Leaders of our constitutional structures,

Delegates,

Government Ministers and officials,

IndustriALL Global Union

Invited guests; local and international,

Speakers,

Former ZEWU leaders,

Comrades &friends,

Ladies and gentlemen.

I greet and welcome you all to this Congress. May I kindly request you all to stand up as we observe a minute of silence in honour of all our dear members who passed on as from the last Congress. May their souls rest in eternal peace.

Ladies and gentlemen it is undeniable that as we meet here, workers today are under siege from globalization, diminishing incomes, casualization of labour, splinterism in trade unions and unsafe working conditions. In order to effectively tackle these, ZEWU has to fight tenaciously and resolutely as failure to do so would result in membership exploitation by global capital whose top priority is to make profit. There is therefore need for us to regroup and start developing membership- centred programmes and campaigns, looking around organizing, education, defending and protecting our members at all costs. We should always be alert because the member requires to be serviced on a 24hour basis and on 365 day cycle because capital is scheming around the clock on programmes that are generally exploitative, anti-worker, undemocratic and anti-union.

I feel greatly humbled to stand here and present before this august house the overview of the union’s journey over the period under review.

Period 2013 – 2015.

The following report depicts the Zimbabwe Energy Workers’ Union’s (ZEWU) administrative and operational performance over the last twoyears since the last National Council’s Resolution of 22 November 2013 which waived the holding of Congress then and gave the National Executive an extended, redefined and specific mandate. The report seeks to update the Congress on the milestones achieved, the constraints encountered and the unaccomplished tasks that the Union should still tackle in order to drive the organization forward in its quest to meet the broad mandate and specific objectives set out by the National Council then. This report shall take into account the political, economic, social and technological environment which prevailed over the period under review so as to put everything into proper context.

General Political Overview

The country conducted harmonized general elections in July 2013. ZANU (PF) won and, then went on to form a government marking the end to the inclusive government and global political agreement. From then onwards, political tension which had subsided during the inclusive government era resurfaced. Further, tensions escalated in the build up to the watershed December 2014 ZANU (PF) Conference which was preceded by the suspension of many provincial chairpersons. The December ZANU (PF) Conference resulted in the expulsion of the then Vice President in government and party, J.T. Mujuru. Thereafter, a number of Ministers were fired from government.

More than three mini- cabinet reshuffles have since been implemented and this has seen changes in a number of line Ministers in companies covered by ZEWU. That has also resulted in stagnation of some issues that the union was pursuing with the Ministries due to changes in the personnel therein. An example is the Ministry of Energy and Power Development which has had three different Ministers in a period of three years being these being; Elton Mangoma, Dzikamai Mavhaire and currently Samuel Udenge.  Similar changes occurred at the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare where Paurina Mpariwa gave way to Nicholas Goche who was then replaced by Priscah Mupfumira who is the current Minister and Minister of  Water, Environment and Climate, where Saviour Kasukuwere gave way to Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri. This has had negative impact on some of our issues as outlined below.

It remains unclear as to what will happen next on the political plane but what is almost certain is that as we move towards 2018, there is going to be an upswing in intra and inter party tensions and that has the obvious effect of sidelining economic issues as political activities take centre stage.

Economic Overview

After the elections, the ZANU (PF) government adopted the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustained Social and Economic Transformation (ZIM-ASSET), as an economic blueprint to guide it in running the country. The policy is based on clusters, each dealing with a particular aspect of the economy. Most of our companies fall within the Infrastructure and Energy Development Clusters.  The ZIM-ASSET blueprint also brought with it the Results Based Management (RBM) concept which all parastatals are obliged to adopt as a matter of policy and is directly supervised by the government through the respective line Ministries. The government further adopted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) supervised Staff Monitoring Programme which has seen stringent measures being applied on the civil service.

Generally speaking, the economy has shown a marked decline since 2013 with the liquidity crunch being the major handicap. There has been no improvement in Foreign Direct Investments as most investors have remained skeptical and hesitant to move into the country. More and more companies have shut down due to working capital constraints. Most companies which remained in business are operating way below capacity and are failing to meet their recurrent obligations like salaries resulting in them owing in unpaid salaries and unremitted  statutory obligations. Government is also of late struggling to pay Civil Servant salaries on consistent intervals. The economy has generally remained in a state of deflation, characterized by high but steady prices of basic commodities and dominated more by transnational retailers selling basically foreign products especially from South Africa and other parts of the region.

There has however been a ray of hope in the 4thquarter of 2015 which saw the serious expression of interest from e.g. the Dangote Group of Companies and soft drink giant Pepsi, as well as the opening up of a number of credit line facilities between Zimbabwe and the European Union bloc. The country has also presented a debt retirement plan to clear $ 1.8 million of its foreign debts with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The plan, which has been approved by the two institutions , if adhered to,can result in the country having its credit rating improved and that may result in more international financial institutions opening up to Zimbabwean businesses.

A major challenge however remains in that the power situation in the country is getting worse with the fast depletion of generating capacity of the Kariba Hydro Power Generation Station. The station has seen generation capacity reduced from around 750 Megawatts down to about 475 Megawatts and the usable water levels continue to dwindle due to climate change notably short rainy season. This has further crippled industry with Sable Chemicals operations being shut down resulting in laying off of almost 500 employees.

Social Outlook.

The social outlook has generally remained gloomy. Unemployment has remained high and the poverty datum line on average has remained at $600.00. The situation has further been compounded by the massive job losses in the aftermath of the July 17, 2015 Chidyausiku Supreme Court judgment confirming the lawfulness of termination of contracts of employment on notice. As is common knowledge now, over 30 000 people lost employment between 17 July and early September 2015.

In response to the negative impact of the Chidyausiku judgment, government intervened to restore order at the workplace. That was done through the amendment of some sections of the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01). Resultantly, the Labour Amendment Act No. 5 was enacted. The amendment however has some gray areas and has already been challenged at the courts by EMCOZ. Labour has also moved in to oppose the EMCOZ’s challenge. It is apparent that there could be yet another protracted legal battle as employers seek to resist the idea of compensating employees who lose their jobs as is currently provided by Amendment No. 5 of 2015.

It is pleasing and noteworthy of cause to mention that the massive job losses sparked by the Chidyausiku Judgment did not affect our constituency that much. The few and sporadic incidents of dismissals were quickly attended to by the Union and all the members who had been affected were immediately reinstated after the cases had been dealt with at NEC level.

Overally, the past three years have proven to be one of the worst nightmares from a labour point of view in that incomes have basically been eroded and some companies, including those within our constituency, have adopted the so called cost reduction measures which are characterized by reduction of basic salaries, slashing or scrapping of allowances and some benefits.

A GENERAL OVERVIEW OF ZEWU

The Union has steadfastly withstood its ground in the face of the aforementioned forces of diversity. After the redefined mandate given by National Council on 22 November 2013, my Executive set out to tackle the numerous challenges facing the Union with a sense of purpose and unshakeable unity. The Union showed maturity and resoluteness in the face of the direct onslaught by the employer whose ploy of destabilizing us included the 2012 dismissal of over 135 members, including your President for union activism.

The Union membership, with the abundant solidarity from our local, regional and global comrades has fought tenaciously against every attempt to destroy the institution from within or without. I  take this opportunity to thank everyone here for the role they played and which they continue to play in fighting my dismissal at both the political and legal fronts. The battle rages on and we trust that some day, justice shall prevail and worker power and rights shall be respected by the powers that be.

The Union has also been able to put in place a vibrant young workers’ structure as was mandated by the National Council in 2013. As shall be addressed more fully in the General Secretary’s Report, the National Youth Advisory Committee constitutive Congress was successfully held in Nyanga in December 2014. The Youth leadership were oriented into their new role in June 2015 and also managed to come up with their own Strategic Plan in tandem with the main ZEWU Strategic Plan. Every opportunity is being availed where possible, for the Youth to participate in all mainstream activities.

My leadership has also worked tirelessly in supervising and coordinating the available Union resources towards the attainment of the ZEWU aims and objectives over the years. The recent mass termination of contracts of employment on notice which saw parastatals like NRZ, Air Zimbabwe, GMB, ZINARA and CSC dismissing thousands workers in July and August 2015 were viciously opposed by ZEWU and the few of our members who had been terminated were reinstated after the Union challenged the dismissals at the NEC. The 2012 CBA dispute, as the General Secretary shall give specific details remains on our agenda as we seek to bring it to finality.

Recently, there was the madness on termination of fixed term contracts by ZETDC which we fought at the NEC as it was clearly a case of negotiating in bad faith whereby the employer was seeking to frustrate the rights bestowed on fixed term contract employees by the Labour Amendment Act No. 5 of 2015. Our position is that as the matter is rightly before the NEC, parties should exercise due caution and not temper with the current arrangements till such a time that there is a CBA governing the fixed term contract issue. We are hoping to have secured an NEC CBA on the matter before the expiry of the new fixed term contracts within the first quarter of 2016.

There is also a growing propensity by companies in the industry to streamline our members’ conditions of service and restructure companies through the so called cost cutting measures which we ought to ward off decisively. All conditions of service being currently enjoyed or those covered by CBAs are sacrosanct and therefore untouchable. This is the position of law hence our right for which we shall fight tenaciously.

The foregoing are clearly manifestations of the carnivorous tendencies of global capital and its onslaught on us as the working class. Our theme, ‘’Worker Rights Are Basic Human Rights, let us reposition ourselves in defence of our job security’’ therefore resonates with our current thrust. We should all remain united and fight for our rights without fear or favor as none but ourselves can set us free from the shackles of capital oppression.

It is my wish therefore, honorable delegates and guests, that as we meet at this momentous occasion in the history of ZEWU, we take stock, self introspect,re-focus and reposition ourselves and strategise on how to better the plight of our membership in this increasingly hostile environment that we work in as the agents of global capital are forever plotting on how best to exploit our strength and sweat at little or no cost at all.  We should make maximum utilization of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No 20 of 2013 which has widened the scope of our rights to decisively assert them. Let this Congress place us at a better level going forward. Let us remain relevant despite whatever change in the national socio- economic, political and technological environment that we operate in or our members are exposed to.

Discipline

Allow me comrades and honourable guests, to talk a little bit about this very important aspect of any social movement like ours.

For unity to exist and be sustained, we must nurture a high level of discipline throughout all our structures.Unity is always threatened by lack of discipline. Our last Congress was highly contested and it exposed the characters of some of our comrades who aspired to be national leaders to the extent that they wished others dead.

We cannot be quiet when there is lack of discipline in leadership and we should stop the blame game and take total responsibilities of everything we do. Some NEC and branch officials were relieved of their duties for being dishonest, making untoward utterances, attacking leadership and the organization on social media platforms with non-members, failure to uphold the organisation’s principles and, above all, lack of discipline, which is a basic value to keep a variety of people together in a united organization.

The Union is not going to tolerate people who behave as if they own or are bigger than the organization. We all have the duty to defend and protect the integrity of the organization as well as further the members’ agenda. So, we want to believe that you are here as a worker and representing the workers. Comrades, we are sick and tired of people who join us to push the employers’ agenda. If you are unlucky and get caught, we will deal with you without any fear or favour through our democratic mechanisms.  Sellouts or those in our midst who intend to destroy from within, are worse than those from external. They do not deserve any mercy. So be warned as this is the workers’ parliament which discusses our issues openly towards building a stronger organization. We all know that there will be elections at this Congress. Please let us not allow that to preoccupy our minds or divide us. We expect the new leadership to continue pushing the working class agenda and those who do not make it, there is always a next time as we cannot all lead at one go. Above all, let ZEWU and not individuals be the biggest winner after that elective process, as individuals come and go but the organization is here to stay.

Let me remind you what we said in the past.”A trade union is a voluntary organization engaged in a life or death of class struggles.” We cannot afford the luxury of petty squabbles of minorities refusing to accept properly reached decisions. Once a decision is taken no matter by how narrow a majority, it has to become the decision of the union and as a leadership we must all uphold the principle of collective responsibility.. Therefore it means there can be no organized defiance by any group whatsoever to a majority decision. The developments in ZCTU are a practical example, whereby a majority decision is undermined by minority members. That is anarchy it cannot be condoned and such leaders are a threat to our internal democracy as they display uncontrollable lack of discipline which is bordering on ill-health and may require psychological intervention. ZEWU has the capacity to defend itself.We don’t worship individuals but we channel our loyalty to the organization

We are thankful for this opportunity given to us as leadership collectively by members to lead and be accountable to you as members of ZEWU. The NEC is confident that we are on the right track to full recovery provided that we respect ZEWU’s constitution, policies and decisions taken by constitutional structures. It is not business as usual; we call on all our leaders and members to play a central role of recruitment. A call is being made to let our members return home,which home has been refurbished in order for them to get quality service.

To those who are going through personal challenges, be comforted by the words of Gill Lindel who said, “ Go under it, go past it, go through it, but never give up”.

On behalf of the NEC we thank all those who played a role for us to be together in this National Congress. Let us march forward with more determination inorder to get the best for our members. Victor Kiam once said; Even if you fall on your face, you are still moving forward”.

We are about to start salary negotiations, our members are looking forward to a much better deal inorder for them to survive and minimize the high level of exploitation they are going through right now. It is our well-considered view that through unity and commitment to serve we can achieve more for our members. We must also navigate in an environment where there are comrades who regard themselves as super perfect, populists who can’t appreciate any progress made in the organization nor in the country.

Let us all thank our local, regional and international friends and comrades who stood by us and believed in us at all times. We say together we can inflict unending victories against capitalists.

I therefore wish you all, as delegates,frank and productive Congress deliberations and, to our guests, thank you so much for blessing us with your esteemed company and contributions.With these words allow me to officially declare the ZEWU 8thNational Congress deliberations officially opened.

KWATA MUSHUMI KWATA

TANHA MAMA TANHA

BE STRONG ZEWU BE STRONG

SHINGA MUSHANDI SHINGA

QINA SISEBENZI QINA

I THANK YOU

ZEWU President Angeline chitambo (left) flanked by ZEWU Vice President Mike Stima Ndlovu (middle) and Trustee Peter Shotere at the 8th National Congress
ZEWU President Angeline chitambo (left) flanked by ZEWU Vice President Mike Stima Ndlovu (middle) and Trustee Peter Shotere at the 8th National Congress

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