Blue Agri workers down tools over paltry salaries

WORKERS of one of the major agricultural operations, Blue Agri Private Limited, have gone on strike over “extremely low” salaries of about $3 000 per month, NewsDay Business has established.

BY MTHANDAZO NYONI

The strike, which started a week ago, is crippling the company’s operations.

“There is a farm in Mashonaland Central called Oban Farm whose workers, totalling about 200, have not been going to work because of poor salaries.

“They are on strike,” Progressive Agriculture and Allied Industries Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Paawuz) secretary-general Raymond Sixpence, said.

The farm, formerly owned by late John Dollar, is now being operated by Blue Agri.

“The workers failed to raise US$1,50 as school fees for their children.

“They approached the employer for help but the employer refused to give them.

“So the workers have not been going to work for almost two weeks now.

“Each student was supposed to pay US$1,50,” Sixpence said.

The farm is exporting bananas, avocados, cut flowers among other products but is refusing to pay workers a living wage, according to Sixpence.

Reached for comment, the company’s human resources manager Brian Wonenyika declined to comment, referring all the questions to his boss who could not be reached for comment.

“I cannot comment on that.

“You can call my boss,” curtly he said.

Sixpence said farm workers in Zimbabwe were literally modern-day slaves, earning extremely low salaries, yet agriculture is the backbone of the economy.

“They are now paid $3 180 per month at a time the government is bragging of making money out of tobacco and everything.

“Farm owners can pay their maintenance and everything in foreign currency but cannot do that for the workers.

“To be fair, we think employees should get at least $8 500, for the least paid,” he said.

“The employers are very adamant; they still want to continue exploiting workers.

“We have tried to engage them but they are not willing.

“Now there are strikes at the farms, the workers are withdrawing their labour,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s monthly cost of living as measured by the Zimbabwe National Statistics agency, went up by 4,1% to almost $18 000 in September.

In South Africa, the lowest paid farm workers earn about US$230 per month.

Sixpence said the agricultural sector was losing workers to artisanal mining and vending due to poor salaries.

“The agricultural industry will end up having a shortage of labour.

“Workers are more than beggars now and the General and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe when it negotiates it settles for peanuts.

“The Labour Act is taking long to be amended whereby we should all be part of the negotiation table,” he said.

He said there were more than 10 workers’ unions in Zimbabwe but only two were allowed to negotiate for workers’ salaries.

Sixpence said the challenge was that most government officials and ministers were farm owners, hence their reluctance to improve the welfare of workers.

“They (government officials) are employers hence and they do not want to pay.

“Now it is black monopoly capital.

“We were fighting white monopoly capital, now it is black against black.

“To make matters worse, some of these officials are leasing out their farms to white farmers” he said.

The agricultural sector is the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy as more than 70% of the population derives livelihoods from the sector, 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 to the country’s wealth creation and employment. Despite all this, workers in the sector are classified as the working poor.

Do you have a coronavirus story? You can email us on: news@alphamedia.co.zw