Women farmworkers bear the brunt of casualization in Zimbabwe

May 16, 2019

By  Nevanji Madanhire, journalist.

Women constitute more than 50 percent of the workforce on farms in Zimbabwe but are employed mostly as casual labor, opening them to various forms of exploitation, a new research by the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) has revealed.

“Casualization of labor in Zimbabwe has significantly increased in recent years and the agriculture sector has been one of the worst affected sectors,” the research says.

The research, titled Casualization and Implications for Decent Work for Female Workers in the Horticulture Sector of Zimbabwe and published in December 2018, covered horticulture farms in Harare, Concession, Ruwa, Bulawayo and Beitbridge.

Growing sector

The horticulture sector, one of the largest agricultural sub-sectors in Zimbabwe, has grown significantly in the last decade and has realized rapid changes in relation to global value chains. It involves the growing of mainly fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts and ornamental trees and plants.

The research noted the growth in non-standard forms of employment in the sector that women have been subjected to. It noted the drastic reduction over the years of opportunities for most women in the sector to get permanent employment. This has seen more and more women being employed in more casual, precarious and unclear contracts of employment.

According to the research, value chains in this sector have gained wide momentum as they are a major source of foreign currency generation, employment creation and general economic growth and development.

“Whilst the sector is fast growing in terms of demand and market opportunities at the national, regional and international markets, value chain approaches in the horticulture sector have tended to focus on improving the capacity of one set of actors, largely producers,” says the report. “Little attention has been placed on the conditions of workers in this sector, especially women workers, increasing gender dynamics and environmental burdens.”

Female majority

A labor force survey published in 2014 showed that 54 percent of employs in the horticulture sector were women continuing a trend established in earlier surveys carried out in 2004 and 2011. Women are preferred as labor on the farms for various reasons according to the LEDRIZ report.

“There is a preference to hire more female workers especially in the in horticultural sector due to their perceived natural skills and ability to handle produce carefully and give constant attention to crops.” Employers regard female workers as naturally diligent, reliable and proficient at delicate and repetitive tasks key to the horticulture sector.

They are also regarded as a less aggressive workforce on issues of rights at work. Employers, according to the report, tend to violate their rights at work because there is no recourse. The employment of women as casual labor denies them rights that should normally come with full-time employment exposing them to job insecurity, poor occupational safety and health, lack of voice representation by trade unions, income insecurity and career insecurity.

“These challenges escalate for women after factoring in most forms of gender-based violence at the workplace such as sexual harassment and the lack of maternity protection which undermine full enjoyment of women workers’ rights and decent work,” the report says.

Violation of workers’ rights

The research revealed that the high rise in non-permanent work was also giving rise to serious violation of workers’ rights and in particular female workers’ rights such as freedom of association and collective bargaining; occupational safety, health and environment; decent wage, working time, training and skills development, maternity protection and social security.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines decent work as work that is productive and gives a fair wage, gives security and social protection for families, gives freedom to express workers concerns; provides human dignity, provides equal opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

The research revealed the majority of female workers working in the horticulture sector in all the geographical areas surveyed are facing serious decent work deficits, which can be traced back to the non-permanent nature of employment contracts and relations.