Sustainable Development Goals and trade unions in Zimbabwe

By Naome Chakanya, economist and senior researcher at LEDRIZ

For the past number of years the Zimbabwean economy has been in a fragile state. It has been characterised by massive and increasing deindustrialisation, policy discontent and informalisation of the economy (94.5% of its economy is now informalised). Unsustainably high external debt (over US$7.5 billion as at end of June 2016, with arrears accounting for almost 80% of the debt), deflation, liquidity challenges, capital that is both scarce and costly, revenue under-performance, out-dated technologies, structural bottlenecks including power shortages and infrastructure deficits and corruption have further added to the country’s woes. This has worked against the full achievement of the Millenium Development Goals. Today, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Framework provides an opportunity for the nation to step up the unfinished business of MDGs. The Government hastily embraced the SDG framework and developed a Government Position Paper on SDGs, which it adopted in September 2015.

Sadly, in its haste to develop the SDG Position Paper, the Zimbabwean government failed to recognise one of the key principles for the successful realisation of the SDGs, that is, the principle of inclusivity which has been coined into the well-known SDG mantra “Leaving no one behind”. Worryingly, the trade unions, for reasons best known by the Government, were excluded by the consultation process leading to the development of the Paper. The Position Paper states, “the Government undertook a wide consultation process which entailed Multi-stakeholder Workshops and several follow up meetings. The stakeholders included government departments, the private sector, civil society, academia, UN agencies and other development partners”. One tends to wonder how wide the consultation was, given the exclusion of the critical and major stakeholder representing the labour constituency. Furthermore, the Paper concludes by saying that the Government will engage stakeholders in financing, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the SDGs. Trade unions are again excluded from the subsequent list of stakeholder that it mentions. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has consistently informed the government that the major reason why its policies fail is due to such exclusion. The lack of effective participation of critical national stakeholders in policy development processes is in clear contradiction of the 2030 Agenda’s aim to “leave no one behind”.

In the SDG Position Paper, the Government indicated that it will implement all 17 SDGs as they are deemed to be important to the country. However, it settled on prioritising 10 SDGs, namely: Goal 2 on hunger; Goal 3 on health; Goal 4 on education; Goal 5 on gender equality; Goal 6 on water; Goal 7 on energy; Goal 8 on decent work; Goal 9 on sustainable industrialisation; Goal 13 on climate change; and Goal 17 on the means of implementation. However, one of the weaknesses of the SDG Position Paper is that it is silent on priority targets under each of the SDGs.

It is commendable that SDG 8 was included amongst the priority goals, a critical goal for trade unions globally. On one hand, this gives trade unions an entry point to engage and advocate the government to implement employment-rich growth strategies. On the other hand, Goal 8, amongst other goals provides a huge opportunity for the trade unions in Zimbabwe to harness their efforts towards the implementation of the Decent Work Agenda. This agenda is a long standing issue that trade unions have been engaging the government and fighting for in the recent past. ZCTU believes that the nexus between economic growth and poverty eradication is the creation of decent employment. Furthermore, Trade Union Development Cooperation Network’s Strategy on the 2030 Agenda highlights SDGs 5 and 13 as priorities for trade unions.

The SDG framework does not present entirely new issues for ZCTU and its affiliates. In fact, the SDG framework reinforces existing advocacy messages of ZCTU that are contained in a book published by ZCTU’s research institute, the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ). The book, titled Beyond the Enclave: Towards a Pro-Poor and Inclusive Development Strategy for Zimbabwe (2011), sums up the aspirations of the SDG Framework. Since 2012, ZCTU has been engaging the government as well as Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to implement the strategies outlined in the book, albeit with minimal response from the government. LEDRIZ and ZCTU have been rolling out education, training and awareness programmes across Zimbabwe as a way of building capacities to demand the implementation of pro-poor and inclusive developmental strategies that will lift the country out of the economic doldrums.

With this in mind, it is critical for ZCTU and its affiliates to begin strengthening their capacity on the issue. Knowledge and articulation of the SDG Framework - its goals, targets and implementation – will enable trade unions to contribute to the development effort and effectively engage the relevant national stakeholders. Thus, education and training on the SDG Framework becomes a key ingredient to deepen its advocacy and engagement at national level. Filtering the issues from the national policy level down to the grassroots membership will also help to popularise the demands outlined in Beyond the Enclave in the context of the SDG framework. With this in mind, visibility material on the SDG framework is a critical part of ZCTU’s communication and information dissemination strategy. This mobilisation is key for trade unions to demand the full implementation of the 10 priority SDGs from their various angles. As the government has already begun to show signs of exclusivity, the initial priority for ZCTU and LEDRIZ is to secure its space and inclusion in the national SDG discourse.