Farm work­ers in jeop­ardy

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - BUSINESS - Africa Moyo Busi­ness Re­porter

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.

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