July 15, 2016 (160715)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"An astounding 80,000 Zimbabwe workers in formal employment--out of
some 350,000 workers--did not receive wages and benefits on time in
2014, according to a new Solidarity Center report, 'Working Without
Pay: Wage Theft in Zimbabwe,' released today in Harare." -
This AfricaFocus Bulletin released today, not sent out by email but
available on the web at http://www.africafocus.org/docs16/zim1607b.php, includes a press
release and excerpts on a report released today in Harare: "Working
without Pay: Wage Theft in Zimbabwe." This study, by the Labour and
Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) and the
Solidarity Center, documents the failure of both government and the
private sector in Zimbabwe to pay wages to ordinary workers, despite
lavish pay and benefits for top executives.
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin, sent out by email today and available
on the web at http://www.africafocus.org/docs16/zim1607a.php,
contains a short news report on the release of Pastor Evan Mawarire,
who sparked the #ThisFlag citizens' protest movement in Zimbabwe, and
excerpts from a longer analytical article by Zimbabwean political
analyst Alex Magaisa.
Report: Working without Pay--Wage Theft in Zimbabwe
An astounding 80,000 Zimbabwe workers in formal employment--out of
some 350,000 workers--did not receive wages and benefits on time in
2014, according to a new Solidarity Center report, "Working Without
Pay: Wage Theft in Zimbabwe," released today in Harare.
As a result of this widespread wage theft, many workers say they are
forced to eat only one or two meals a day; move repeatedly to access
affordable housing; and rent two rooms or fewer for their entire
family to make ends meet.
Through first-person interviews and other research by affiliates of
the country's main trade union confederation, the Zimbabwe Congress
of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the report provides hard data behind last
week's successful one-day shut-down of businesses, government and
services by workers across Zimbabwe outraged over wage theft and a
new law targeting market vendors who make up the vast proportion of
One woman interviewed in the report, whose experience is not
uncommon, says she has received $26 a month in wages for the past
eight months, although her monthly salary is $342. Yet basic living
costs, which on average include $60 for renting a single room, $30
for electricity, $15 for water and $22 for transportation to work,
mean she only has sufficient funds to get to and from her job.
"This failure to pay what workers are legally entitled to is wage
theft in that it involves employers taking money that belongs to
their employees and keeping it for themselves," the report states.
"This is a clear violation of international labor standards, as well
as national legislation on the employment of workers."
The report traces the ongoing wage theft to 2012, as employers in
the public- and private-sector increasingly began delaying wage
Simultaneously, the number of jobs in the informal economy has
skyrocketed, the report points out. Some 6.3 million people made up
Zimbabwe's workforce in 2014, of which 5.9 million workers (94.5
percent) were informally employed, compared with 84.2 percent in
2011, according to "Working without Pay." An additional 800,000
women and men were in the workforce, but unemployed.
Last month, the government introduced a statutory law that bans
imports of basic commodities--a law that directly affects hundreds
of thousands of informal economy workers who survive on cross-border
trading. Up to 95 percent of jobs in Zimbabwe are in the informal
economy, and workers say the new law takes away their livelihoods.
Based on surveys at 442 companies, and the result of extensive
research by the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of
Zimbabwe, the report also documents extravagant salaries and
benefits to middle and top management even as workers go unpaid and
presents recommendations for action to address the problem.
Some of the recommendations include:
The Ministry of Labor, together with representatives of employers
and unions, should review the status of companies that are not
paying their workers and assist in developing plans to rectify the
Unions representing workers in companies not paying salaries--in
full and on time--should demand that the government bring criminal
proceedings under the relevant provisions of the Labor Act against
Trade unions should advocate for payment of interest on late
The government should set an example by reviewing the wage
structure in government agencies and quasi-government agencies to
limit benefits to top managers, institute a more just pay scale and
prioritize payments to workers through collective bargaining or
by Tefere Gebre , Executive Vice President, AFL-CIO
More than 100 women gathered in October 2013 to peacefully protest
at the state-controlled Hwange Colliery coal mine in western
Zimbabwe, where many mineworkers had gone months to almost a year
without pay. The women had gathered at the manager's office to
demand wages owed to the men. For their trouble, they were met by
armed police and, in the violence that followed, several women were
injured. This incident and other anecdotal stories of wage theft, on
the rise in the intervening years since that incident, prompted the
Solidarity Center to commission this report, which details the
magnitude of wage theft in Zimbabwe and the impact this widespread
practice has on workers and their families.
Wage theft is impoverishing workers who, under other circumstances,
would be the bedrock of the middle class. It forces families to
devise coping strategies that can tear at family ties, make
difficult choices and mortgage their future. Wage theft disempowers
and robs workers of dignity: The inability to support one's family
through work gives rise to shame, embarrassment and the loss of
dignity. Zimbabwe's governance structures and industrial relations
system are seriously broken. The government does not enforce laws
that would protect workers. In the event of a closure, for example,
companies are not obliged to recognize payment of wages to workers
should be prioritized. Indeed, they are rarely paid even a fraction
of what they are owed in wages. In fact, the government is a major
culprit as public-sector workers, including teachers, police
officers and members of the military, are unable to predict their
pay dates with any certainty.
In a country where formal jobs are few, Zimbabwean workers often
cannot fight exploitation like wage theft. Fortunately, trade unions
are advocating for their interests and working to prevent further
erosion of their economic status, as they have fought for peace,
human and worker rights, and economic justice over the decades. The
American labor movement stands in solidarity with the people of
Zimbabwe in their ongoing struggle for social justice, human rights
and dignity in the workplace. In addition to continued support
through the ongoing partnership programs of the Solidarity Center,
our most meaningful demonstration of solidarity is represented by
our unflagging efforts to ensure that our government's global
policies protect worker rights including freedom of association,
promote gender equality, and create inclusive approaches to economic
development around the globe. Only such policies will ensure that
those who produce wealth are able to share in the prosperity,
including the working people in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe's economic and political crisis, notwithstanding a brief
hiatus in 2009-2010, continues to bring economic hardship and
suffering to the majority of Zimbabweans. Increasingly, even
employed workers with long-term contracts, who have relative
protection with job security, are experiencing sharp declines in
their economic position. Between 2011 and 2014, the number of
workers in informal employment grew from 84.2 percent of the
currently employed work force to 94.5 percent, rising to 5.9 million
workers in 2014. Among approximately 350,000 workers in formal
employment in 2014, more than 80,000 workers did not receive wages
and benefits on time.
Wage non-payment affects an estimated 22,000-plus workers for urban
councils (local government entities), 12,000 in agriculture, and
more than 7,500 each in the security sector, automotive industry and
railways. Workers in several sectors are averaging more than 20
months without a pay check. Those affected include people who are
still formally employed and required to go to work, as well as
others who have been laid off without re ceiving the wages and
benefits due to them under their contracts.
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
governmental institutions in Zimbabwe are complicit in these
violations, top managers continue to receive high salaries and
International standards, particularly the International Labor
Organization (ILO) Protection of Wages Convention, 1949 (No. 95),
which has been ratified by 98 countries, mandate the regular payment
of wages to workers and the priority of such payments over other
financial obligations of employers. Although Zimbabwe has not yet
ratified most of the relevant conventions, national law in Zimbabwe
defines employers' obligations for payment of regular wages in legal
This failure to pay what workers are legally entitled to is wage
theft in that it involves employers taking money that belongs to
their employees and keeping it for themselves. This is a clear
violation of international labor standards, as well as national
legislation on the employment of workers.
This report, based on extensive research by the Labour and Economic
Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe in 2015, supported by the
Solidarity Center, lays out the scope of wage theft in Zimbabwe, the
responsibilities of the state under international standards and
national legislation, and the failure of the state to address the
impact on workers and their families. It also presents
recommendations for action to address this problem.
Ensuring compliance with international labor standards and curbing
wage theft in Zimbabwe requires actions by both government and
unions. Most urgently, this means that existing law be enforced and
union pressure increased to curb wage theft and hold employers
accountable for their violation of worker rights. In addition, the
Zimbabwe Labor Act should be reviewed and strengthened to provide
procedures for monitoring of and action on such cases in both the
public and private sectors. Pay structures should be reviewed in the
public sector in particular, which should set an example for the
private sector. Zimbabwe should move expeditiously to ratify
international conventions on wages. And unions as well as government
should provide support for workers and their families who have
suffered and continue to suffer from wage theft.
Wider Context of Wage Non-Payment
Wage non-payment is happening within the context of the wider
economic crisis, and workers with formal employment are in the
minority. Far more vulnerable are workers with informal employment
conditions. Of the entire employed workforce of 6.3 million people
reported in the 2014 Labor Force Survey, 5.9 million workers (94.5
percent) were informally employed, as compared to 84.2 percent in
the 2011 survey. An additional 800,000 women and men were in the
workforce, but unemployed.
This trend toward precarious employment was confirmed by interviews
and questionnaires in the LEDRIZ survey. The majority reported
themselves to be on fixed-term employment contracts rather than
having status as permanent workers. They noted a trend toward
termination of permanent workers, who could be later employed as
casual workers, especially in the agriculture and manufacturing
Workers also reported cases of discrimination between permanent and
casual workers in terms of payment of wages. For example, permanent
workers had gone without wages for months while casual workers
continued to be paid. The rationale given by employers was that
casual workers only had to be paid wages, whereas permanent workers'
paychecks normally included statutory and other benefits. Employers
also said that they could afford to delay the wages for permanent
workers, since their contracts did not lapse at the end of the
month. Ironically, some permanent workers have opted to become
casual workers in order to be paid, despite losing access to
benefits such as pensions, medical coverage, severance pay and other
allowances. Such practices, particularly in the agriculture sector,
have in some cases been effectively opposed by unions.
Another trend noted in some interviews was the shortening of the
work week to three days, which reduces transport costs for workers.
At the same time, there has been an increase in involuntary overtime
on those days to compensate (reported by 90 percent of workers
filling in questionnaires). Surprisingly, some noted that they were
paid for overtime but still were not getting their wages. Many noted
that the drop in production was minimal given the substitution of
overtime for the missed days.
Workers who are dismissed find themselves competing in the informal
sector, which is already under stress from competition and
government harassment. Jobs such as market vendors and street
vendors are characterized by the absence of official protection and
legal recognition; non-coverage by minimum wage legislation and the
social security system; low pay; and little job security. In recent
years, moreover, the government of Zimbabwe has in effect waged war
In February 2015, the then Local Government Minister Ignatius
Chombo, addressing mayors and council chairpersons at the 73rd Urban
Councils Association of Zimbabwe (UCAZ) annual general meeting in
Bulawayo, said, "The role of the informal sector in our economy, the
upsurge of indiscriminate vending in urban areas has acutely
affected the ambience of our environs while compromising the health
of the residents.” He said, "Vendors are selling their wares from
everywhere, including on pavements, open spaces and in front of
shops." He went on to add that, "All local authorities are therefore
required to immediately take necessary measures to remove the
vendors from undesignated sites [and move them] to alternative
planned vending points." Meanwhile, Finance Minister Patrick
Chinamasa has vowed to track down all informal traders to recover
what he said they owed the state in sales taxes.
The impact of wage theft
In any country, the impact of workers going unpaid is dramatic. In
the context of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, it is particularly
devastating. In interviews with workers for this report, the workers
stressed the following points on how their lives have changed and
how they have attempted to cope with the impact on their lives.
Many were walking to work to reduce transportation costs,
requiring them to get up before dawn to be able to make it to work
by 8 a.m. Some noted that they no longer had time with their
families as they left home when the children were asleep and
returned when they were in bed.
Many transferred their children to less expensive schools, where
the quality of education and facilities is lower. Some pointed out
that they were unable to pay even those fees. Some children had to
drop out of school entirely.
Workers reduced the number of rooms they rented, sometimes taking
two rooms or fewer for the entire family. A single room had become
the study room, dining room, living room, kitchen and bedroom. Many
landlords were also not being paid by their employers and had less
tolerance for late payment of rentals. Thus many workers had to move
from one place to another repeatedly.
Many reduced food consumption, cutting back to one or two meals a
day. This affected the performance of workers at the workplace as
they came to work hungry. And children of unpaid workers, as well
as many other children, had to go to school on empty stomachs.
Many could no longer afford to buy clothing, even second-hand
clothes. Relatives had to assist by providing clothing for workers
and their family members.
Many families relocated women and children to the rural areas as a
way of reducing costs. With the families living full-time on a rural
homestead, they could send food to the male worker in town.
With lack of access to affordable medical insurance and the cost
of hospital care and medication out of reach for unpaid workers,
many relied entirely on faith and traditional healers.
Workers also cut back on most other expenses, including letting go
of low-paid house hold employees who previously eased the burden of
household chores and child care.
Many workers could no longer afford to visit parents and other
relatives in the rural homestead, a trend which is straining
extended family relationships.
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