Zimbabwe: Unions pressure government to ban asbestos

In an effort to push forward the campaign to ban the use of asbestos in workplaces, Zimbabwean trade unions affiliated with BWI held a two-day forum with representatives from the government and employers’ groups on 30 September- 1 October. 

The forum, which was attended by 28 participants, had diverging views on the call to ban the use of asbestos in the country.

Zimbabwe Construction and Allied Trades Workers’ Union (ZCATWU) General Secretary Nicholas Mazarura urged the government to find an alternative to asbestos arguing that its use poses serious health and safety risks to workers. He also said that the use of asbestos will eventually be banned worldwide. 

However, the employers’ groups disagreed. While they commit to protect workers from possible asbestos-related diseases, they opposed a total ban on the use of asbestos. This was somewhat supported by representatives from the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) who opined that there is a lack of data on the people who died of asbestos-related diseases. They called for further research on the dangers of asbestos. 

Trade unionists countered by saying that the health risks posed by the use of asbestos is already an established fact. They said that no less than the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) have called on countries to develop and implement national programmes on the elimination of asbestos-related diseases. 

This was echoed by Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) President Peter Mutasa. He maintained that the use of asbestos is dangerous, especially to workers exposed to it. However, he agreed to the commission of additional research if this will encourage the government to craft clear policies on asbestos.  

For her part, BWI Regional Representative Crecentia Mofokeng responded by saying that Zimbabwe, which was once the 6th biggest producer of asbestos in the world, still use asbestos despite left and right studies that point to its serious health risks. “It is crucial for social partners at the national level to take appropriate measures leading to the total ban on the use of asbestos and elimination of asbestos-related diseases." 

The forum ended with trade unions and government and employer representatives agreeing to more and broader consultations with all relevant stakeholders. It was also suggested that more trade unions should be involved in the Chrysotile Taskforce. Currently, CLAWUZ is a member of the taskforce.