By Alex Bell
15 March 2010
A prominent German trade unionist has decried the deteriorating state of human rights in Zimbabwe, saying he is ‘deeply concerned’ by the government’s disregard for the rights of workers.
The president of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB), Michael Sommer, was speaking to journalists at the end of a four-day visit to Zimbabwe over the weekend. During his visit Sommer met with trade union leaders, workers and also with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who is now being urged to ensure that the government respects trade unionism in Zimbabwe.
“I’m deeply concerned that the situation has shown significant deterioration over the past few weeks,” Sommer said.
Sommer’s comments come after the entire leadership of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) went underground last month amid concerns for their safety. The union had faced increased threats and harassment by officials from the Joint Operations Command (JOC), and a number of police raids on the union’s offices in Harare. The raids have been in response to the release of a shock report and documentary last year, exposing the violent abuse of workers on farms seized by the Robert Mugabe regime. Gertrude Hambira, the union’s Secretary General, has fled to the safety of South Africa, where’s she said to be staying in a safe house.
Sommer called the harassment of Hambira and the other GAPWUZ members unacceptable, echoing concerns of trade union groups from South Africa and the UK. South Africa’s union federation, COSATU, had also expressed anger about the ‘concerted harassment and continued threats of arrests’ against the union leadership. At the same time the UK’s Trades Union Congress, the International Trade Union Confederation, the International Union of Food Workers and Amnesty International have all called for an immediate and complete end to the intimidation of GAPWUZ officials and staff.
“Freedom of association and trade union action are basic rights which must be respected by every decent society,” Sommer said over the weekend, adding that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) would later this month discuss Zimbabwe’s deteriorating situation.
Lovemore Matombo, the President of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), agreed with Sommer’s assessment, explaining that there has been a shocking increase of violations committed against trade union members over the past year. This has been despite the formation of the unity government more than a year ago, an event that Matombo said raised false expectations of change and improvement.
“There has been no improvement and trade unions seem to be bearing the brunt of increased human rights abuses,” he said, explaining that there have been at least 178 recorded violations against workers over the past year.