Zimbabwe labor leaders: workers harassed, arrested

Zimbabwe's main labor federation said Sunday the coalition government has failed to stop arrests, violence and intimidation against labor activists more than a year after the International Labor Organization criticized the southern African nation for gross violations of workers' rights.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions said at Sunday's Workers' Day ceremonies that workers' rights "continue to be trampled upon without government even batting an eyelid."

It cited recent police action to ban its meetings and detain participants.

The federation also launched a campaign to expose executive monthly salaries of $10,000 and above. Most Zimbabwean workers receive less than half the official poverty-line wage of $510 per month.

Lovemore Matombo, head of the federation, told labor union members the organization will soon "name and shame" executives receiving unlimited benefits of gasoline, mobile phone charges, entertainment, school fees and lunch allowances above their salaries.

They include heads of inefficient, loss-making state-owned companies where the lowest-paid worker gets about $150 a month. Some executives earned about $12,000 a month along with private school fees for up to three children.

Matombo described the results of the federation's just-completed survey of executive salaries as "shocking."

"There is simply no logic to this and we have launched a fight against it," he said.

Earlier, police tried to ban a series of workers' marches in provincial centers, saying they could inflame violence. But the marches went ahead Sunday without reports of violence. The High Court on Thursday issued an order restraining police from stopping the marches.

But Matombo said police recently banned labor meetings and detained participants.

Several activists were detained and charged with treason after holding what they said was a lecture on uprisings in North Africa. They were accused of planning an Egypt-style uprising and are free on bail awaiting trial.

Treason carries a possible death sentence.

After its official commission of inquiry into labor practices in Zimbabwe, the International Labor Organization said Zimbabwe breached international labor laws, curtailed the right to strike or demonstrate — and was responsible for arrests, torture, assaults and intimidation of activists.

President Robert Mugabe, 87, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, was forced to join a troubled coalition with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangvirai after disputed, violent elections in 2008. Tsvangvirai is a former head of the labor federation that helped found his Movement for Democratic Change party.

The police and military remain in the hands of Mugabe loyalists.

Matombo said workers had not been led to "the land of milk and honey" the coalition had promised and said political leaders are "paranoid" over the activities of labor groups and their criticism of the coalition.

The nation faces record unemployment after a decade of economic meltdown.

"We meet as workers to discuss politics of the stomach and if that touches on governance issues, so be it," he said.