By Byron Mutingwende
The Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) has produced a publication focusing on the importance of upholding socio-economic rights of the citizens.
Dr. Prosper Chitambara, while introducing the publication titled “Socio-economic rights in Zimbabwe: A Situational Analysis 1980–2018 “ to journalists in Harare on 30 October 2018, said such rights ensure pro-poor, inclusive and sustainable development.
“In Zimbabwe, where a large percentage of the population lives in poverty and social deprivation, provision of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights becomes even more important. ESC rights aim to ensure that everyone has access to the resources, opportunities and services essential for an adequate standard of living.
“ESC rights provide protection for the dignity, freedom and well-being of individuals by guaranteeing state-supported entitlements to education, public healthcare, housing, a living wage, decent working conditions and other social amenities. Gross violations of ESC rights have been among the root causes of conflicts,” Dr Chitambara said.
International recognition of ESC rights dates back to the early twentieth century, when the International Labour Organisation (ILO), then an agency of the League of Nations, adopted a series of conventions intended to improve labour standards around the world. The ILO recognised a range of workers’ rights in its Declaration of Philadelphia (1944), affirming that ‘all human beings have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity.’
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also been at the forefront of spearheading the international recognition of ESC rights. The Constitution of the WHO (1946) declared that ‘The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.’
Dr. Chitambara said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948, proclaimed the inviolability of ESC rights.
Article 2 of the Declaration states that, ‘everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.’ ESC rights con- tained in the UDHR include:
- The right to own property (Article 17); • The right to social security (Article 22); • The right to employment (Article 23); • The right to education (Article 26); and
- The right to an adequate standard of living (Article 25).
ESC rights were recognised formally in international law in 1966, when they were enshrined in the ICESCR. The ICESCR is the first part of an International Bill of Human Rights, the second being the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In its conclusion, the LEDRIZ publication notes that even though socio-economic rights are clearly provided for in the Constitution under the Bill of Rights, their enjoyment by the generality of the citizens still remains a major challenge.
“For instance, 94.5% of total employment in Zimbabwe is informal, characterised by a prevalence of decent work deficits and high levels of poverty. In most cases, the government has failed to meet regional and international benchmarks on budgetary allocation to fundamental socio-economic rights such as the Abuja Declaration, which stipulates that African governments must spend at least 15% of total government expenditure on healthcare.”
LEDRIZ urged the government to commit to a new social compact that puts people at the centre of development. The labour body said the macroeconomic framework and budget priorities must be based on the attainment of socio-economic rights, i.e. the adoption and implementation of a livelihood approach that ring-fences expenditures in such areas as water, sanitation, health, education, social protection, infrastructure (energy), other basic social services, and employment enhancement infrastructural investment.
“The expenditure mix underlying the national budget is such that the bulk of resources go towards employment costs, leaving little for operations, and social and capital expenditures. Over the years, social spending has not been able to match the social deficits in the economy, leaving the area of humanitarian assistance to international partners. Under these circumstances it is imperative to adopt a human-centered approach to development, and a pro-poor and inclusive national budget should be adopted.”
LEDRIZ added that the growth-supporting macroeconomic policy required for pro-poor and inclusive development will be sustainable only if the government expands the fiscal space.