Categories: Articles, Farm smart!, Resource managementPublished On: 16th April 2024

Zimbabwe agri workers’ wage woes

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Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector workers’ demands for a living wage remain elusive amid an escalating cost of living. As the country makes efforts to grow the sector into a multi-billion dollar industry, farm workers could well find themselves left behind regarding remuneration.

Over the past two decades, the country’s economy has tanked, with economists blaming, among other things, the violent farm takeovers for interrupting agriculture production. Since independence in 1980, Zimbabwe’s GDP has been driven by agriculture, and disruptions in the sector have shrunk what was once one of the region’s economic hopes. Salaries have also shrunk, with unskilled workers such as farm hands feeling the pinch.

At the height of the country’s agriculture production, hordes of families worked on thriving commercial farms. After the controversial land reform programme, however, the regular complaints that emerged were that the new farm owners had stiff arms, not too eager to pay workers a living wage. Now, as the country struggles with inflation, faltering agriculture production, and a host of economic challenges, farm workers have not been spared.

Last February, the National Employment Council for the Agricultural Industry in Zimbabwe announced new wages for agriculture workers, citing the need to keep up with inflation. Measured against the local currency, the highest paid farm worker would earn USD212, while the lowest would get USD107. The last increase the National Employment Council for the Agricultural Industry in Zimbabwe had accepted had been in 2020 where farm worker salary was pegged at between ZWD550 and ZWD1 100. That year, the government pegged the local dollar at USD1:ZWD25.

As the country struggles with inflation, faltering agriculture production, and a host of economic challenges, farm workers are feeling the impact.

This effectively meant the lowest paid farm worker earned USD22 per month, while the highest went home with USD44. Yet as the Zimbabwean currency continues its free fall against the greenback, this has meant farm workers’ salaries have also been affected. The sector is one of many in the country where labour unions exist in name only. Regarding farm worker salaries, the irony is that civil servants earn around USD200, meaning that according to the government and using the official exchange rate, the highest paid farm worker earns more than a teacher and other low level civil servants. However, that still remains in theory as farm owners are not ready or willing to pay their workers that much. Thirty-six year-old Simba Chambati knows this only too well.

He has worked on a farm the past three years, got injured while on duty but says he never got compensation from his employer. “I have seen first-hand the suffering farm workers go through. The money is just too little and we also do not get paid in time,” Simba said. Because farm workers live within their workplaces, employers view such arrangements as reason not to fully honour official salary requirements such as housing allowances. Simba’s farm is a mix of cattle ranching and crop production, and he says his duties overlap between the two.

“When I first started, I was told I would look after the crops of maize, cabbages, tomatoes and more. But in the past three years, crop production has suffered and I find myself looking after the cows, and for the same salary. I was getting three years ago,” he said. It is a familiar story.

Farm occupational hazards are a regular occurrence in Zimbabwe, but health insurance for farm workers is virtually unheard of, Simba says.

“There are no jobs in the country, and if you have one you make sure to keep it. You cannot demand your dues or else you are told to find work elsewhere,” he added.

As the country struggles with inflation, faltering agriculture production, and a host of economic challenges, farm workers have not been spared.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation notes that “although smallholder farmers play a critical role in food and nutrition security in Zimbabwe, with their production accounting for the bulk of the country’s food, they themselves often struggle with poverty”. By some estimates there were around more than three hundred thousand farm workers at peak, but that figure is disputed against low agriculture production over the years as workers quit to look for opportunities elsewhere. In 2009, the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe reported that up to sixty percent of farm workers said they were the most abused as a direct result of farm takeovers. By Simba’s own account, not much has changed. If anything, the troubled economy has made things worse.

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