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FEATURE: Zim workers languish in poverty in the midst of creamy profits

It is a breezy Sunday morning and Backdoor Mhunza, a laborer at a farm in Chiriseri communal lands is trying so hard to digest the biblical verse which his priest, Father Michael shared. It was drawn from Proverbs 12 v 11 stating that, “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.”

As he ponders in his heart he reflects on how he has endured low salaries for the last decade despite working so hard for his employer. He imagines how some of his co-workers who retired received pensions not even equivalent to US$400 despite dedicating 30 years in service.

“I work like an elephant but my family eats like ants, why am I like this? Where exactly am I getting it wrong?” Mhunza ponders quietly.    

Such are the circumstances being experienced by a majority of Zimbabwean workers who have not seen meaningful reward for their toil in decades.

This is despite the fact that the country has an internationally acclaimed education standard with indexmundi.com stating that as at September 30 2021, the literacy rate stood at 86, 5%. The quality of work produced by the country’s citizens remains top notch, prompting migrants leaving the Southern Africa nation to outcompete foreigners even in their hometowns.

Recent data shared by top labour  economist ,Doctor Prosper Chitambara reveals that on average , professional graded workers are taking home an equivalent of US$180 calculated using the official rate.

“Which is very lower to the incomes being earned by  other workers in the region like South Africa as of the second quarter 2021 , the average salary paid to employees in the formal sector was up marginally by 1.7% quarter on quarter from R23,127  in February 2021 to R23,526 almost equivalent to US$1,568  in May 2021.

“This is 9,7% higher compared to the same period in 2020. In Zambia the national average salary is K4,393 equivalent to US$258,” he said.

Chitambara added that the average salary in Mozambique at 40 200 meticais per month is equivalent to US$629,86  while in Eswatini  the average income is US$3 580.

Apart from poor earnings, The International Trade Union Confederation 2021 index ranked Zimbabwe among the world’s ten worst destinations for the working class after tracking a series of violations which include the forceful clampdown of workers demonstrations.

But what really gobbles the mind is the mismatch between government’s efforts to spur the economy, the big cake being enjoyed by employers and the growing selfishness among the elite business class.

In the full year of 2021 , one of the country’s top performing Innscor Africa Limited posted recorded  revenue of $56,486 billion during the year under review, representing a 406% increase on the comparative year on the back the back of volume growth across all businesses as the introduction of new products.

In the six months ended August 31 2021, telecommunications giant, Econet Wireless posted a profit of   it of $6,6 billion in the same period translating to a 5 259% increase in profit.

These two companies are just a tip of the iceberg revealing the good performance being recorded by most Zimbabwean companies listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.

Quizzed over the growing mismatches, Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe president, Demos Mbauya did not send through his responses despite having assured NewZimbabwe.com.

Renowned economist, Doctor Godfrey Kanyenze bemoaned the current deficits and recommended that the Tripartite Negotiation Forum (TNF) is the only way out.

“What we see is the widening gap of inequality, with “the haves” amassing more wealth while the workers continue to drown in poverty. Worse still companies are enjoying a lot of favorable policies like duty exemptions, access to foreign currency at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Foreign Exchange Auction yet they even decline to pay for taxes in the same currency.

“They charge for goods and services in US$ or rate salaries at prices which are rated against parallel market rates. There is an urgent need to deal with the matter at the TNF,” he said.

Commenting on the matter, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president, Florence Taruvinga decried the fact that companies have never shared their profits with workers if any , they are very few which is why we are demanding for US$ salaries to restore the purchasing power of workers.

“Most if not all companies are pegging rtgs prices using black market rate which relates to 100% US. We are pushing for restoration of the salaries that workers earned in 2018.

“It’s a struggle that is continuing and deepening hence making use of any strategy available which will yield results. There is no way employers would opt for any sharing option, that has never been a character of capital,” she said.

She said workers’ demands are enshrined in social justice and equity leading to Decent work for all workers and that we should continue to use all strategies that are at our disposal to make sure that workers are dignified.

“Despite continuing to encourage the use of the Works Councils to negotiate and improve the outcomes of National Employment Councils, the journey has been futile because core issues have not been addressed,” she said.

Taruvinga added that they are promoting social dialogue as a means of achieving parity and social justice in the workplace whilst at the same time building the capacities of our trade union negotiators and also making sure that every action to alleviate is taken.

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