BY Emmanuel Zvada GOOD jobs are few in Zimbabwe, hence workers and their salaries are under trying economic circumstances. Zimbabwe‘s economic and political crisis, notwithstanding a brief hiatus has affected everyone including workers. To the employed, wage theft is now a reality in various sectors as its ugly head continues to manifest through non-payment of salaries, overtime, leave days accrued and terminal benefits among other forms. Should we stay at home and starve or just continue but being taken advantage of? Wage theft leaves Zimbabwe’s workers in a serious dilemma.
Workers’ fundamental right
Every person has the right to fair and safe labour practices and standards and to be paid a fair and reasonable wage. Failure to pay what workers deserve is wage theft and it is a clear violation of international labour standards, as well as national legislation on the employment of workers. Wage theft is a reality, hence worker rights and workplace discrimination should not be ignored. If you check different professionals with same qualifications and experience, one working for a government institution, others for a private company and a non-governmental organisation, you will notice the variances in wages. Wage theft comes in various forms, either being dishonest in the payment of wages or failing to pay the actual wages.
What is wage theft?
When companies intentionally do not pay employees all the money they are owed, that is considered wage theft. Wage theft refers to any activity, action or practice that prevents workers from receiving their lawfully earned or contractually promised compensation. In other words, wage theft can simply mean the non-payment or underpayment of earned wages to employees by employers.
Failure to pay what workers are legally entitled to can be called wage theft and when employers get away with wage theft, it creates an unfair advantage over honest employees. Workers of all types, in all industries can fall victim to wage theft, hence it’s a subject that needs to be unpacked and discussed as many workers are victims of it.
Protection of employee rights
Section 6 of the Labour Act, which speaks to the protection of employees’ right to fair labour standards, states that: “No employer shall pay any employee a wage which is lower than fair labour specified for such employee by law or by agreement made under this Act.” In Section 12, the Act goes on to obligate the employer to provide particulars of the employee’s remuneration, its manner of calculation and the intervals at which it will be paid.
- Chamisa under fire over US$120K donation
- Mavhunga puts DeMbare into Chibuku quarterfinals
- Pension funds bet on Cabora Bassa oilfields
- Councils defy govt fire tender directive
Section 12A states that remuneration payable in money shall not be paid to an employee by way of promissory notes, vouchers, coupons or in any form other than legal tender. These provisions and sections of the Labour Act clearly spell out the obligation of the employer in terms of remuneration, how it should be paid. Failure to abide by it becomes an unfair labour standard in the form of wage theft.
Examples of wage theft:
Not paying a worker at all
Failure to pay what workers are legally entitled to is wage theft, where employers will be taking money that belongs to their employees and keeping it for themselves. This is a clear violation of international labour standards, as well as national legislation on the employment of workers. Notably, this violation of the right to be paid for one’s work is common in the public as well as private sectors. And, while government institutions in Zimbabwe are complicit in these violations, top managers continue to receive high salaries and generous benefits. Wage theft is endemic, and no group of workers is immune, including workers earning good wages — born workers alike have their wages stolen, though low wage workers are particularly vulnerable
Paying below minimum wage
Minimum wage violations, in particular, are most prevalent in the industries that employ a lot of low-wage workers like service industries. Statutory Instrument 81 of 2020, which may be cited as the Labour Relations (Specification of Minimum Wages) (Amendment) Notice, 2020 (No15), specifies a new minimum wage. In this scenario the employer cannot just decide not to pay the employees minimum wage, it becomes wage theft.
The employer may apply to the appropriate NEC for exemption from paying the minimum wage stating the reasons. In the case that the employer is not regulated by an employment council, application shall be made to the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister and exemption will be granted on the basis that the employer provides non-monetary benefits of a quantifiable value to employees.
Non-payment of overtime
Overtime disputes are such unending disputes between employers and workers where employers want free labour and workers want to make more money through overtime. The normal eight-hour workdays, lunch breaks and overtime compensation all stem from wage and hour provision. Limitations on how long an employee can be required to work and how much they must be paid for exceeding those limits are crucial to be discussed.
Overtime provides your employees with a source of supplementary income without having to spread their loyalty to other employers. However, one of the problems that it could bring is non-payment. Unpaid overtime can lead to a lot of tension within the company. So, make sure that if you do introduce it, you can afford to pay employees.
Wages play a fundamental role in the distribution of income and reduction of poverty and economic growth. Any deduction that brings an employee to a level of compensation lower than minimum wage is illegal and must be reported. The Labour ministry is supposed to make sure that entities play according to the book, and the book is that everyone has to be paid a salary once he works, be it weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
- Emmanuel Zvada is a human capital consultant and international recruitment expert