Low wages, no benefits for exploited workers

The country’s weak economy is forcing companies to resort to contract workers, hired at paltry wages, to cope with rising production costs and an uncertain future, workers have said.

The latest case involves 40 cleaners contracted by a large Harare-based cement manufacturing company. They claim they received even lower than expected wages at the end of their latest contract. In August, the workers accepted an offer but were not made aware of the terms and conditions of their employment until 20 days after they staged a demonstration demanding information about their contracts.

They claimed they were threatened with dismissal on the grounds that they were unwilling to work. They finally received a range of different amounts through a local money transfer agency, Ecocash, with the explanation that their fees differed because they had been taxed in different tax brackets.

“The foreman kept postponing the issue of the wage rate. Some days, he would tell the employees to wait for him in the morning but he would not show up,” said one of the affected workers. “When we planned the peaceful demonstration he threatened us saying that we did not know anything about our workers’ rights.”

Another worker said: “We finally agreed on $1.30 an hour, which would have resulted in a total of $409 for the duration of the contract. Today, though, I received a message from Ecocash saying I was entitled to $275.”

The disgruntled workers said they were still in shock at the level of worker exploitation exhibited by their employer. “When I called the foreman to enquire about the sudden change, he told me that the company had changed the hourly rate to $1.26 from the previous agreed $1.30.” added another. Contacted for comment, the company said it was unaware of the wage dispute.

The story of the 40 is nothing new, according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). Employers, taking advantage of rising unemployment, are offering new workers paltry wages on casual contracts, says Ian Makoshori, the ZCTU youth national chair. The situation was so pathetic, he said, that workers didn’t receive their pension contributions in the event of a job loss. Unlike their long serving colleagues, new workers were cheaper to lay off as they were denied exit packages.

“Government should prosecute people over these unfair labour practices. Workers are not provided with standard conditions of service such as protective clothing, a living salary, safe working conditions and social security schemes,” said Makoshori.

Secretary General Japhet Moyo added that workers’ grievances remained unresolved as unemployment continued to rise. Wages and general working conditions were still poor.

Post published in: Business

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