Farm workers petition minister over slave wages

BY MTHANDAZO NYONI

THE Progressive Agriculture and Allied Industries Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Paawuz) has written to Labour and Social Welfare minister Sekai Nzenza, requesting for a meeting over the “conduct of white commercial farmers”.

In a letter dated August 2, 2019, Paawuz secretary-general Raymond Sixpence revealed that workers in the agriculture sector were being exploited, hence requesting for an emergency meeting with Nzenza.

“We are writing to you in displeasure over the conduct of farmers, particularly white commercial farmers. The farmers are abusing workers, making them to work for over 12 hours and underpaying them,” he wrote.

“The farmers are threatening workers and harassing them. They are only worried about production; they don’t care about workers’ welfare. We are kindly requesting for your honourable office to book for any appointment to meet with you and the two employer’s unions. We need harmony in the agriculture sector. Zimbabwe is open for business and not for workers exploitation,” Sixpence wrote.

Commercial Farmers’ Union director Ben Purcell Gilpin refuted the allegations, saying they were “advocating for and support fair labour practice in the agricultural industry and noted with concern any allegations of inappropriate labour practices”.

“The labour law provides for conciliation through the NEC (national employment council) and we believe the proper process of complainant should be followed. We would, therefore, appeal to all employers to act within the law and to use the designated NEC to settle disputes,” he said.

Gilpin said it would be important to have full facts in each case before any further comment, “suffice to say all we can do is to encourage good workplace relationships as this is essential for the sustainable operation of farming businesses”.

The agriculture sector is the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy as more than 70% of its population derives its livelihood from it, according to a 2016 report titled Working and Living Conditions of Workers in the Agricultural sector in Zimbabwe compiled by Naome Chakanya.

The sector contributes the highest figure in terms of the country’s wealth and employment.

In terms of employment, according to the Labour Force and Child Labour Survey released in 2014, the agriculture sector (including forestry and fishing) contributes about 67% of total employment and about 15% to the country’s gross domestic product.

Despite all this, workers in the sector are classified as working poor.

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