By Malvern Mkudu
According to a survey conducted in 2015 by the Labour Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) approximately 80 000 workers have not received their salaries and benefits on time. Many of the workers have not received their wages for more than 12 months but are still expected to come to work by their employers.
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.
These conditions have resulted in hardships that have caused families to break down. The lead researcher in this study, Nyasha Muchichwa narrated gory details of how some wives and daughters had turned to prostitution in order to make ends meet.
Speaking at the launch of the report the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Union Secretary General Japhet Moyo said that many workers were in the predicament of not receiving their salaries but are suffering in silence.
“Some of you here are not receiving your salaries but you don’t want to say it because you are embarrassed” he said. Ncube said that revealing that one is not earning any income would invite ridicule by relatives and friends. As a result most people continue as if all is well and even get themselves into debt in order to ‘keep up appearances’.
He lamented how workers have defaulted on mortgages and lost their investments while others have lost benefits such as medical aid because they had defaulted in their payments.
The issues of failing to pay employees is not only limited to the private sector as government has also failed to pay its employees. Only recently government has struggled to pay its own employees resulting in a mass stay away organised by teachers’ unions on the 6th of July. Government has also struggled to pay bonuses it promised its employees last year.
This issue of wage theft has been difficult to combat because the workers in the country are not united. The ZCTU official said that the 5, 9 million people working in the informal sector did not consider themselves as “labour”. He pointed out that the supreme court ruling of 2015 for example which had far reaching consequences for employees was seen as something irrelevant by those working in the informal sector. This makes it difficult to mobilise labour forces.But the reality is that both informal and formal sector workers are in the same predicament. According to the Finscope study conducted by the Ministry of Finance and World Bank in 2012 22% of the 2,9 million employees in the informal sector are not paid at all while some are partially paid and others paid in kind. This shows that the issue of wage theft started as early as 2012 and is also prevalent in the informal sector.
Most of people continue to go to work despite not being paid because they are conducting their own private business using company resources. However some said that if they leave their employment now they would never be able to access their benefits. Others say that it is easier to find another job when you are in another job so they will soldier on.
While the government has blamed sanctions for the conditions currently prevailing, the study revealed that there is a huge gap between the income of the highest paid executives and the lowest paid workers. The study revealed that company executives were receiving huge perks and their salaries were always the first to be paid while lower grade workers are told that there is no money.
In 2014 the state controlled Herald revealed that executives in parastatals were drawing huge salaries. The story that made the highlights was that of the PSMAS executives who were earning up to $500 000 a month. The same issues were reported at ZBC despite the fact that the public broadcaster has retrenched and not paid some workers citing lack of funds.
While companies plead lack of funds, senior management continue to receive hefty salaries and benefits. Workers have refrained from taking industrial action in fear of reprisals. The Supreme Court ruling that gave employers the right to terminate employee contracts on three months’ notice has been used to cow workers into submission.
Workers’ unions have also complained that they do not have funding to represent workers’ interests. The closure of many companies has resulted in the revenue base of unions shrinking. This has handicapped their ability to organise strikes or other action against employers. The economic meltdown has affected workers ability to organise themselves and therefore disempowered them.
The wage theft continues unabated with workers unions and the government folding their arms. Meanwhile workers and their families bear the brunt of this scourge.