Zim Government dragged to ILO over ZCTU’s seized funds
HARARE-The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has reported the government of Zimbabwe to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for violations over a US$57 000 garnish of trade union education funds from its accounts by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA).
The funds were garnished days the before the 8 ZCTU elective congress, a move which was perceived to be aimed at sabotaging the holding of the congress and thereafter discredit the legitimacy of the ZCTU’s engagements afterwards by a government desperate for money.
The ZCTU is now preparing to file a High Court application challenging the garnish and will soon be approaching the courts for recourse. The ZCTU said the timing of the garnishee was highly suspicious and could not rule out the possibility of sabotage and efforts to have the garnish reversed by appealing to ZIMRA and the Ministry of Labour have been in vain. “We suspect that ZIMRA was working under instruction from some forces baying for the demise of ZCTU. The fact that the accounts were raided days before the congress to us is not just a coincidence because if we had failed to hold the congress then government would have had a field day on us questioning our legitimacy to represent workers,” said the ZCTU Secretary General, Japhet Moyo.
In its letter to the ILO the ZCTU sought the intervention of the international labour body to put pressure on the government to return the looted funds. “The confiscation of the amount was a deliberate ploy to disrupt the t h 8 C o n s t i t u t o n a l G e n e r a l Conference that was set for 29 September to 2 October 2016. As a result some preconference activities were cancelled…We appeal to your office to engage the Zimbabwe Government to pay back the money that belongs to ZCTU partners,” said Moyo.
The report to the ILO was lodged at a time a high level ILO mission is expected to visit Zimbabwe early next year to assess progress made in complying with international standards. The decision to dispatch a commission eight years after a similar commission had visited was arrived at by the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) after considering submissions made by workers’, business and government representatives at 105th ILO conference in June.
The committee w a s riled by government’s inaction as well as the slow and regressive measures against compliance by government. To ZCTU, the garnish amounts to interference with its business and on September 21, 2016, ZCTU wrote to ZIMRA asking them to reverse the garnishee order, as the attached funds were not ZCTU funds but donations availed by cooperating partners to support workers’ education programmes. The education programmes include training in capacities of organising, labour rights, labour law, safety and health, climate change and gender specific programmes. “Please be advised that these f u n d s a r e p u r e l y f o r t h e implementation of activities as per the agreements between us and the partners and this garnish will affect the operations of the ZCTU, our relations with partners and will also have a negative effect on the c o u n t r y’ s r i s k s t a t u s internationally,” read part of Moyo’s letter to Zimra.
Moyo said the taxman was in the habit of inflating the amount owed they owed adding that the labour body had tried in vain to convince ZIMRA to reverse the garnish order and refund the seized amounts. “We also have a bank account that has been garnished since 2011 to date and we were asked to bring copies of the bank statements because the payments made through that account had not been captured,” said Moyo in one of the letters to ZIMRA.
In response to the ZCTU pleas for reversal of the garnish order ZIMRA remained adamant requesting the labour body to clear all its outstanding returns. In October, ZIMRA’s Harare’s regional manager for domestic taxes I. Chikuni turned down a request by ZCTU to have the garnish order reversed. “Please be advised that (the) uplift of garnish order will only be considered after all outstanding returns have been submitted, all current obligations have been settled and a payment plan proposal that would see you settling your total debt in 12 months,” reads the letter in part.
ZIMRA acting commissioner general, Happias Kuzvinzwa was also approached over the issue but he said that ZIMRA no longer had the money because it was remitted to the Ministry of Finance. In a last ditch bid to recover the seized amount, Moyo has since notified Ngoni Masoka, the secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare detailing how ZIMRA had crippled the ZCTU’s operations by the garnish order.
“Kindly take notice that the failure to remit the taxes is not deliberate, but it is arising from the failure by our affiliate unions to pay their subscriptions. Our affiliates are also owed by companies who are also not remitting trade union dues and some not paying their employees. Despite this difficult situation, the ZCTU has been remitting monthly the little amount paid by its affiliates,” said Moyo in a letter to ZIMRA.
He said the garnish was likely to classify the ZCTU as a risk organisation and also portray the country as risk in doing business. Moyo said the government was out to suppress the ZCTU as sources within ZIMRA revealed that it had also garnished University of Zimbabwe (UZ) accounts around the same time. The UZ garnish was reversed after government intervention as President Robert Mugabe was supposed to officiate at its graduation ceremony in October. The ZCTU is also regarded as a government enemy because it facilitated the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the largest opposition party in the country, in 1999. The same government has a record of raiding individual and company accounts and in 2013 the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) was forced to pay back millions of dollars in foreign currency it had illegally seized at the height of the country’s economic collapse, after a landmark ruling by the High Court.
ZCTU was among the organisations who were paid back when the RBZ returned more than US$50 000 – 00. The government pounced on the accounts after in 2007, after it ‘centralised’ all foreign currency accounts as part of efforts to stem the imminent collapse of the economy, which had suffered from years of economic misuse and bad policies by the then ZANU PF led government. The ‘centralised’ order saw authorised dealers of forex being forced to hand over their clients’ money to the RBZ, which resulted in more than a billion dollars worth of foreign cash being seized. Of recent ZIMRA, has been under pressure to rake in money into the treasury and has been raiding company and individual accounts as the revenue base has been thinning owing to company closures and massive retrenchment