Police Block Worker Protests in Zimbabwe, Enter Union Offices

Police entered trade union offices today and, following earlier arrests blocking street protests, are creating a climate of intimidation limiting public challenge to a recent court ruling causing thousands of workers to lose their jobs, with more job losses expected.

“The mass retrenchments emanating from the Supreme Court ruling of July [17], 2015, will exacerbate an already difficult position for the working people of Zimbabwe,” says Godfrey Kanyenze, director of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ), a Harare-based economic think tank.

Several truckloads of riot police entered offices of the country’s main trade union confederation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), this morning in Harare, continuing a campaign of intimidation against workers protesting mass job losses.

Overwhelming police presence, and brief detention of protest organizers in Harare, prevented marches scheduled to take place across the country on Saturday. Riot police entered ZCTU offices, dispersing a crowd of protesters gathered there and detaining ZCTU Secretary General Japhet Moyo and President George Nkiwane, along with a handful of other trade union leaders preparing to lead the protests.

A ruling handed down by the Zimbabwe Supreme Court last month prompted the popular protests, organized by Zimbabwe’s largest labor federation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

The ruling makes it legal for all employers to terminate workers’ contracts at any time, without offering them layoff benefits, by giving them three months’ notice. Up to 18,000 people have already lost their jobs, and more job losses are expected.

“This ruling marks the last nail on formal employment,” says Kanyenze.

In recent years there has been a dramatic shift in Zimbabwe of workers from the formal to the informal sector—where jobs are comparatively precarious, low-paid and without social protection.

Almost 95 percent of the estimated 6.3 million people in Zimbabwe’s workforce were defined as employed in the informal economy, according to a 2014 government report. And, in the three years to 2014, informal-sector employment grew by 29 percent, from 4.6 million people to 5.9 million.