Farm workers in jeopardy
ACCORDING to a new law, it will take almost five years of continuous work as a fixed term contract employee for farm workers to be deemed permanent.
Statutory Instrument 67 of 2017, which speaks to collective bargaining issues in the agricultural sector, declares that farm workers should be put on fixed term contracts for four and half years before they become permanent.
This comes at a time when farm workers are battling to come to grips with a US$3 salary increment — agreed to after three years of negotiations — which saw their salaries rising to US$75 per month for the lowest paid.
The new law, which has been roundly condemned by the Progressive Agriculture and Allied Workers Union (Paawuz) — was consented to by several farmer organisations and the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwuz).
SI 67 of 2017, which was a supplement to the Government Gazetted dated June 23, 2017, has sent shock waves in the agriculture sector, with employees saying their rights have been thrown into the dust bin.
Reads part of SI 67 of 2017: “The employer party and employee party agreed on fixed term contracts of the following subsector and agreed on the following: a fixed term contract shall be for a duration of nine months, renewable six time (to give a total of 4,5 years) with benefits provided for in the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), beyond which the worker shall become permanent.”
The benefits include one month of leave, off-days, eight working hours per day and maternity leave.
The law has irked some workers who are blaming Gapwuz leadership for conspiring to make life difficult for them with white former commercial farmers that are leasing farms from beneficiaries of the land reform programme.
“We are in trouble my brother, Gapwuz has let us down. The problem is that it is now working with employers, especially white former commercial farmers, who have been brought back by greedy beneficiaries of the land reform exercise who are renting out farms,” said Mr Mavuto Banda (56), a farm worker based in Chegutu.
“Honestly, how can we be made to work for four and half years before we become permanent? What is clear is that these employers want to exploit us, and before the four and half years are up, they fire us so that when you look for a job at another farm, you start afresh.
“At the end of the day, we will work for the rest of our lives without terminal benefits.”
Paawuz general secretary Mr Raymond Sixpence said condemning employees to “perpetual temporary workers” is unfortunate, especially at a time unions have fiercely opposed casualisation of labour.
“Honestly, I don’t understand how people who claim to be genuine representatives of workers would sign that kind of agreement. My feeling is that three months of continuous work at a company should be enough for one to become a permanent employee.
“I have heard from some of the farm workers we represent that the former commercial white farmers who lost their land during the 2000s who are now being accommodated by some of the beneficiaries are the biggest exploiters of farm workers.
“Government should just put a stop to this nonsense,” said Mr Sixpence.
Paawuz represents farm workers that have grown disillusioned by the service they were getting from Gapwuz.
But last week, Gapwuz general secretary Mr Golden Magwaza told The Sunday Mail Business that farm workers who are complaining are not their members.
Mr Magwaza said in fact, what they have achieved from negotiations with employers “is the best under the circumstances”.
“When we go to negotiate with employers, it is a give and take. We come up with a proposal and employers raise their own. We then strike a balance.
“But I want to tell you that this SI is good for farm workers because they now enjoy one full month of leave — just like anyone else — and they also have off days, eight working hours per day and maternity leave.
“This never used to happen as they were made to sign contracts daily, weekly and monthly. How do you plan under the circumstances where you are jobless at the end of the day?” said Mr Magwaza.
He refuted claims that the white former commercial farmers who are reportedly leasing farms are the biggest culprits in violating employees’ rights, saying “employers are the same, black or white; they need to make a profit”.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Mr Ngoni Masoka asked for questions in writing but had not responded by the time of going to print.
The agriculture sector has about 150 000 employees.
Gapwuz represents about 25 000 employees while Paawuz has almost 4 000.