Workers endure unsafe working conditions
By Farai Mabeza
DESPERATION is forcing workers to work in unsafe conditions, putting their lives at risk, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has said.
Zimbabwe has experienced a steady rise in the number of occupational deaths, injuries and diseases over the past few years.
ZCTU president Peter Mutasa told The Financial Gazette at a breakfast meeting organised by the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) that labour laws and economic conditions had left workers at the mercy of employers.
“We have liberalised labour markets and we have weakened the power of the workers to resist. Workers have been left at the mercy of the employers who are taking advantage of the high unemployment rate and the weakened labour laws. Workers are forced to work in unsafe working conditions because they have no choice. It’s either you work under those conditions or you lose your employment and there is no remedy,” Mutasa said.
Many workers have gone for long periods without receiving their salaries and Mutasa said that this compromised the safety of workers.
“Mentally, such people are unfit to operate machinery,” he said.
Former minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Priscah Mupfumira, who was dropped from Cabinet this week, told the meeting that current occupational accident statistics were unacceptably high for an economy operating below normal capacity.
“Occupational accidents generally arise from uncontrolled worker factors, environmental conditions and the state of the equipment and machinery being used. It follows that much more effort must be applied through various approaches, chief among them is the application of occupational safety and health management systems to prevent accidents,” Mupfumira said.
In 2014, the government gazetted the National Occupational Safety and Health Policy. It is expected that all private companies and government entities implement this policy whose vision is to eliminate occupational accidents, injuries, diseases and fatalities in Zimbabwe.
“This policy applies to all workplaces, be they in manufacturing, mining, transportation, agriculture, construction or service industry,” Mupfumira said.
NSSA chairman, Robin Vela, said in addition to the accidents and deaths, the country was also witnessing an increase in occupational diseases.
“We have also seen an increase in the number of occupational diseases which is partly due to improved reporting systems. It is important that we realise that occupational diseases affect all workers even us who are not in the traditionally dangerous occupations,” Vela said.
Diseases such as asthma, skin problems, pneumoconiosis (related to dust exposure), noise induced hearing loss and chronic backache are common among people in workplaces.