By Joyce Mukucha
Action Aid Zimbabwe (AAZ) in partnership with IssuesPaneNyaya are making commendable strides as they advocate government and a plethora of relevant stakeholders to work tirelessly to achieve economic rights and growth for all by promoting decent work, equal pay for equal work, and the fair distribution of unpaid care work(UCW) with more concern on women working in health and education public sectors.
They noted with concern that with women still less likely to participate in the labour force, and more likely to take the worst jobs in its insecure, unsafe and poorly paid jobs, inclusive growth remains far out of reach.
Thus, the two organisations have organised a virtual Decent Work for Education and Health Sectors Policy Dialogue which provided a platform for civil society actors, researchers, policymakers and duty bearers to examine the current status of working conditions for those in the health and education sectors.
The dialogue was also aimed at proffering ideas on how Zimbabwe as a nation can ensure decent working conditions for public servants necessary to be effective and responsive to continue their work during the pandemic, especially the health and education sectors.
In her keynote address at a policy dialogue meeting on the 7th of September 2021, AAZ Women’s Rights and Economic Justice Programmes Manager, Rumbidzayi Makoni highlighted that for growth to be inclusive, there must be decent work equally accessible to women and men.
She pointed out that women make up the majority of workers in the health and education sectors which are among the least funded sectors in the country’s economy for decades now with the global Covid-19 pandemic fueling the situation.
“The COVID 19 pandemic has adversely affected jobs in these sectors as they formed the front line of the response. Workers in these sectors have either lost their jobs, experienced a decline in real wages and lost paid leave days during the numerous lockdowns this has had a knock-on effect on their contributions to NSSA social security schemes.
“Unlike other governments, the Government of Zimbabwe did not introduce wage subsidies to cushion workers, thus worsening the already skewed distribution of (paid) and unpaid care work. This proved a major drawback in achieving goals set under the Decent Work Agenda,” Makoni said.
She emphasised the need to have public service policies that are geared towards improving the working conditions of women and their empowerment so that they can truly benefit from their efforts.
“ActionAid, therefore, recommends the Government of Zimbabwe to fully finance the Zimbabwe Decent Work Country Programmes through the national budget.”
ActionAid, she said, seeks to achieve Poverty Eradication, Gender Equality and Social Justice.
“In this endeavour, we believe that provision of decent working conditions for all is not just a human rights issue but has the potential to propel national development. We believe that decent work is not just a goal but a driver of sustainable development.
“We believe that it is critical to advance an effective enabling environment within the Public Service through the adoption of progressive policies, the establishment of relevant institutional mechanisms and development of key operational processes to ensure a transformed, non-discriminatory, and fully inclusive Public Service, which reflects decent work for all.”
AAZ also stated that it firmly believes that for Zimbabwe to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 5 & 8 and to be able to resuscitate its public service sector and improve the working conditions, existing gaps ought to be addressed in order to meet with the International Labour Organization (ILO) standards which states that decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives.
“It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men. We firmly believe that no nation runs without the constant and determined work of the people who live there and strive every day with a sense of service to the public,” Makoni further explored.
Media personality and Women’s Rights Activist, Rejoice Nharaunda-Makawa said it was imperative for the government, Civil Society Organizations and other stakeholders to observe the impact that working conditions have on the delivery of public services indicating that they cannot be understated.
The chairperson for the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Honourable Chido Madiwa said there was a need for the government of Zimbabwe to have the political will to radically improve the conditions of women in all spheres of life.
She also urged the government to make concerted efforts in as much as investing in energy and water is concerned as she highlighted that this will lessen the burden on women.
“It is important for Government to find ways to lessen the burden who are often regarded to play a secondary role and caregivers. The government ought to make sure that every household is powered as well as making sure that every household has water that is readily available. This will ensure that women and girls do not spend long hours fetching water and looking for firewood. A lot still needs to be done to ensure that they become part of society’s economic thrust,” said Honourable Madiwa.
Since early history and the ancient civilization, women have played a secondary role, in which they were viewed in the role of caregiver and not part of society’s economic thrust. Many women today, aspire to independence and self-sustenance and want to significantly contribute to the functioning of the Public Service.
The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Health, Dr Ruth Labode said despite the fact that women continue to contribute effectively to the workplace, they continue to encounter massive obstacles.
She highlighted that pregnant women working in the public service were facing a challenge of their rights being violated for instance when they apply for maternity leave their salaries are deducted with others even end up losing their jobs.
Enactment of laws, she stressed, was of paramount importance to ensure that women are protected in the workplace as well as making sure that all forms of abuse are eradicated.
Panellists and other participants indicated that specific support for informal workers helps them claim their rights and have a voice, including through trade unions.
Partnership, said panellists, with the private sector, including through the Women’s Empowerment Principles, helps transform business practices in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Nyasha Muchichwa, a researcher with AAZ said there are multiple decent work deficits in the education and health sector that needs addressing indicating that this has led to an increase in the incidences of demoralized workers, strikes and a fall in the provision of services.
“There has been a fall in the quality of service rendered in the two sectors due to upsurge of extra classes and private surgeries and upsurge in secondary jobs (locum and informal jobs). There is also an overburden on teachers, nurses and doctors, demoralized workers, failure to deliver adequate services.
“Nurses have been downing tools over Covid-19 as they requested for provision of Person Protective Equipment and thousands of Zimbabwean teachers strike over Covid-19 concerns,” he said.
He also highlighted that there have been limited opportunities for employment in the sectors due to the recruitment freeze by the government between 2016 and 2017.
“For example junior doctors being told that opportunities exist in the military(limited choices). In 2021 government recruited 4000 vs 40 000.
The Food Poverty Line, he indicated was ZWL$ 21895.00 and the Poverty Datum Line at ZWL$30, 630.00 in July 2021.
Pertaining salary levels, he indicated that when compared with the minimum monthly requirements, workers are being classified as the working poor with US$540 in 2018 as compared to US$300 in 2021 which cause increase in the number of strikes due to incapacitation.
Muchichwa also articulated seven essential ILO securities relevant to decent work which he said are crucial and need to practically function in Zimbabwe.
These include; labour market security, employment security, job security, work security, skill reproduction security, income security and representation security.
“Concerning these essential ILO securities relevant to decent work, it is important to ensure the prevalence of adequate employment opportunities and job choice, protection against employment instability, promotion of occupational stability and career development.
“There should be the promotion of occupational health and safety standards as well as limits on hours of work, opportunities to obtain and retain skills through both off-the-job and on-the-job training, promotion of adequate and stable earnings and protection of collective rights.”
Projects Officer with AAZ, Kundai Chikoko said there was the need to join hands and bring the much-needed change in communities.
“As AAZ, we believe in collective efforts. If we join hands together as a nation we are able to bring the change that we need. Let’s strive to have decent work for all especially in the health and education public sectors. If we manage to achieve improved working conditions in the workplace then we can have a better nation,” said Chikoko.
According to UN Women, globally, only 63 per cent of women aged 25 to 54 are in the labour force compared to 94 per cent of men of the same age.
Women’s participation rate has barely budged in the last 20 years, except in Latin America and the Caribbean, where it rose from 57 per cent to 68 per cent. In Central and Southern Asia, the rate has fallen to 37 per cent, UN Women highlighted.
At current rates of change, it said, the gender gap, which stands at 23 per cent globally, will not close until 2086—or possibly beyond.
The estimation only considers better formal jobs and not the informal, poorer quality ones where many women still work. Patterns of occupational segregation mean some occupations remain dominated by men or women, with the latter tending to be lower in status and pay.