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Zimbabwean Workers Celebrate First May Day Under New Government

  • Ish Mafundikwa

Zimbabweans join workers around the world in celebrating worker's day. Despite there being an government of national unity in Zimbabwe, times are still very tough for the country's workers.

Zimbabwe has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. Lovemore Matombo, the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) says only six percent of the workforce is formally employed.

The ZCTU boss notes that his organization's struggle for a better deal for those still working has put it on a collision course with the government in the past.

Tensions in Zimbabwe usually rise on May Day. But Matombo says with the new government of national unity this year could be different.

"This year's celebrations are a bit different because the political environment appears to be giving us a bit of space to organize our people without being intimidated by the police or the Central Intelligence Organization. So to that extent, this year's May Day would be more peaceful than we have had before. But of course in as far as the plight of the workers is concerned, the situation remains the same," said Matombo.

Matombo added that while the plight of the workers is still a priority, his organization supports the new government and is involved in negotiations with the government and employers to get the workers a better deal. He says, however, that should these efforts fail, industrial action is always an option.

"We cannot rule out any form of industrial action but what we are doing is to say let's give government opportunity and we have put across our need to increase salaries for the Zimbabwean workers through the Tripartite Negotiating Forum," he said.

But while Matombo is cautiously optimistic about the new government and the apparent cease-fire, he is urging Zimbabwean workers to remain vigilant.

"We are saying they need to be vigilant because our theme this year for May Day is 'it may be dawn; workers intensify the struggle,'" he said.

Matombo says 2008 was the most difficult year for Zimbabweans, whether they had a job or not.

In July 2008 inflation reached a staggering 231 million percent. By the end of the year the Zimbabwe dollar was virtually worthless and the government authorized transactions in hard currency.

Though Zimbabweans are now paid in US dollars, the union chief says they are still some of the lowest paid in the world.

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