By Shame Mukoshori
The majority of employees outside the public sector are toiling for months on end without pay while their bosses are living large as the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to widen in crisis-hit Zimbabwe, the Financial Gazette can exclusively report.
In a 36-page report titled “Working Without Pay, Wage Theft in Zimbabwe”, the research division of the main labour body — the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) — exposed a wage crisis that has reached catastrophic levels outside of the Public Service Commission, which employs government workers.
The Public Service Commission falls under Prisca Mupfumira’s Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.
The research unit, the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ), said at least 120 000 workers across the country worked without pay between 2015 and last year.
An estimated 350 000 formally employed workers have sunk into abject poverty, while their bosses live in opulence – earning up to 769 times more than shop floor workers.
At the time of the research, a staggering 40 000 workers had gone for three years without pay, while a further 80 000 had not received wages on time.
LEDRIZ observed that companies were violating workers’ rights by forcing them to “subsidise” their businesses, with threats to fire unpaid employees who failed to report for duty.
Local authorities were some of the biggest culprits. Urban councils had the highest number of employees who worked for nothing for an average period of nine months.
Local authorities have been the subject of complaints over maladministration and plummeting service delivery. While their workers have gone for months or years without pay, their executives have not missed their hefty monthly incomes.
The report said 22 778 workers in 20 urban local authorities had not received their salaries.
In the agricultural sector, 12 000 workers were not being paid, while 7 500 security sector employees and a further 7 500 in the automotive industry had suffered the same fate.
About 7 500 workers had gone for 14 months without pay at the State-controlled National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), 4 600 in the clothing sector, 3 720 in medical and pharmaceutical companies and 1 800 workers in the energy sector, among other industries.
Public and private sector chief executive officers (CEOs) literally “looted” companies.
Vulnerable farm workers were among the worst affected by the wage crisis, blamed on an economic meltdown, although it is seen by unions as sheer greed and ruthlessness on the part of employers.
Many are therefore trooping to the informal sector, which is thought to employ about 5,9 million people.
Workers in the informal sector rose to 95 percent of the combined job market during the period under review, from 84 percent between 2011 and 2014.
LEDRIZ said bosses in the private sector were receiving between US$10 000 and US$21 000 per month during the review period, in contrast to US$26 for the lowest paid formal sector worker, 20 577 lower than the highest paid CEO.
A respondent to the LEDRIZ research said for eight months, her monthly wage had been slashed to US$26 from US$342.
This was not enough to meet her basic requirements. These included US$60 for rent, US$30 for electricity, US$15 for water and US$22 for daily transport fares to work.
“While governmental institutions in Zimbabwe are complicit in these violations, top managers continue to receive high salaries and generous benefits,” said the report, which was carried out in collaboration with the United States based Solidarity Centre.
“People work to earn income – a wage. Yet in Zimbabwe, as in many other parts of the world, access to adequate and regular wages is not guaranteed in practice, even for employed workers. In other cases, wages are inadequately paid in kind than in cash, with consumer goods or even alcohol. This phenomenon, which has been linked to bondage and even slavery, runs counter to widely adopted international treaties as well as national laws.
This failure to pay what workers are legally entitled to is wage theft in that it involves employers taking money that belongs to their employees and keeping it for themselves. This is a clear violation of international labour standards, as well as national legislation on the employment of workers,” the report added.
“Among approximately 350 000 workers in formal employment in 2014, more than 80 000 did not receive wages and benefits on time. Many of these workers…(are) still expected to come to work without fail. The non-payment of wages is no longer only a private sector phenomenon, but has extended to the public sector, where many workers are also going without pay. Both the government and parastatal institutions have been complacent about dealing with this issue…contributing to the disintegration of the family, higher rates of poverty and greater numbers of the working poor. Even having a single meal a day is becoming an elusive achievement for most workers. The story of the exploited worker, whose rights are being violated in full sight of the government and by the government itself, (must) be told,” said ZCTU secretary general Japhet Moyo, writing in the report.
The report criticised government for allowing armed police officers to “violently” crash demonstrations against non-payment of wages and called for immediate action.
Tefere Gebre, executive vice president at AFL-CIO, said in a preamble to the report: “Zimbabwe’s governance structures and industrial relations systems are seriously broken.
The government does not enforce laws that would protect workers. In the event of a closure, for example, companies are not obliged to recognise that payment of wages to workers should be prioritised. Indeed, they are rarely paid even a fraction of what they are owed in wages. In fact, the government is the major culprit as the public sector workers, including teachers, police officers and member of the military, are unable to predict their pay dates with any certainty.”
At the centre of the crisis that has contributed to what unions claim is exploitation is a sustained economic meltdown, which started in 2000.
The crisis started when the country was slapped with western sanctions due to alleged human rights violations that President Robert Mugabe’s administration has denied.
Compounded by years of maladministration and corruption, the turmoil touched tipping point in 2008 when inflation hit a record 500 billion percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The economic and political crisis, notwithstanding a brief hiatus between 2009 and 2011, returned to haunt industries and policy makers again from 2012.
Cash shortages and a sharp liquidity strain have affected production.
Commenting on executive pay, LEDRIZ said it had been shocked by the disparities in salaries, and by the fact that bosses continued to receive their salaries even when workers were not paid.
“The crisis in the situation of ordinary workers suffering from wage theft is particularly striking given the fact that both public and private employers continue to pay extravagant salaries and benefits to their executives,” it said.
LEDRIZ had conducted a different survey in 2014 which it said “showed that while the average minimum wage was US$247 per month, the average CEO was paid approximately 75 times as much…As with parastatals, top management in the private sector also earned exorbitant salaries and allowances.
Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe president, Josephat Kahwema, said the private sector was not ill-treating workers.
“The private sector is doing what it is supposed to be doing: Retrenching to get the right size of staff.
He said it was the State-owned companies that were going for months without paying their employees.
“It’s in government related companies, such as your Grain Marketing Board, your railways, your Hwange Colliery and some local government organisations, where this is happening. If we have customers we need workers but if we have no customers we cannot continue to hold on,” he said.
But the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer, Christopher Mugaga, said while he did not have the numbers, he was aware that some companies were failing to pay their workers in time due to economic challenges.
But he denied that this amounted to “wage theft”. Financial Gazette