Farmworkers in Zimbabwe bemoan poverty wages

May 18, 2019

By Nevanji Madanhire.

The average wage of a farm worker in the horticulture industry in Zimbabwe has fallen way below the poverty datum line, its value eroded by high inflation, an official of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) has said.

Speaking before the May Day festivities held in Dzivarasekwa, a low-income suburb ten minutes from Harare city center, GAPWUZ secretary-general Golden Magwaza said the wages were pegged at RTGS$131 per month when the poverty datum line was at RTGS$900.

The RTGS dollar is a new currency recently launched in Zimbabwe trading around five to one to the United States dollar on the parallel market. The annual inflation rate peaked at 66,8 percent in March 2019 from 59,39 percent in the previous month. Inflation has been on an upward trend since October 2018 as the country grapples with a serious currency crisis, but wages have remained stagnant; meaning the majority farm workers, mostly women, are living in poverty.

About 54 percent of farmworkers in the horticulture sector are women, according to a recent report by the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) published in December 2018.

Consequences of the low wages

“An average female worker can’t afford basics such as sanitary-ware, healthcare and education for their children yet the horticulture sector is a high export business,” Magwaza said. He said more and more workers had been downgraded to casual workers as employers cut costs. This, he said, meant workers’ livelihoods were adversely affected as their incomes were no longer regular.

Mother of three, Enralasto Garwe of Selby Enterprises just outside Harare said farm workers were struggling to put food on the table and put their children through school. “The wages have become meaningless due to inflation; we can’t send our children to school,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) which superintends large commercial farms said due to the economic crisis the situation in the horticulture industry had become dire. “It’s been a very difficult environment for employers too but most farmers have resorted to cost of living adjustments for their employees,” Chrispen Mununga said on behalf of the CFU. He said more and more farmers were resorting to fixed-term contracts as they were unable to extend permanent contracts as they too were uncertain of their security.

Asked what farmers had done to cushion workers against the vagaries of the economy especially vulnerable women in terms of medical assistance and education for children, Mununga said the CFU was working on a new model that would assist workers. “Currently the CFU is working on a model that will assist farm workers, particularly women, access medical assistance, education and funeral insurance.”

Women representation

The women workers were not happy with their representation in trade union activities which they said were dominated by men. Hazvinei Mariko a supervisor at a rose farm said women faced many challenges because they were culturally considered inferior to men. She said she was the only woman among 10 male supervisors which put women at a disadvantage because their voice was not heard.

“Women are also generally wary to raise their voices. In a group only one or two will raise their voice while the rest are just quiet. It’s a cultural issue, I think.”

Magwaza said GAPWUZ was fighting hard to ensure workers had security of employment. The trade union was negotiating with employers to ensure workers had contracts which enabled them to plan how to use their incomes. Wherever possible the union was fighting for a decent wage for workers and also against casualization of labor.