A NEW report on the non-payment of workers’ wages in Zimbabwe was released earlier this month in Harare, entitled ‘Working Without Pay – Wage Theft in Zimbabwe’.
The report, written by the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) and the Solidarity Centre, explores one of the burning issues behind the protests and public sector strikes against the Mugabe regime earlier this month.
Teachers, nurses and other low-paid workers have not been paid their full wages for months or even years in extreme cases, whilst higher-paid government employees normally get their lavish paychecks on time.
The report details some of the hardships which Zimbabwe’s workers have to suffer when they are forced to work without pay for long periods of time. ‘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 8am. 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 household 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.’
”Workers interviewed for the report also mentioned a number of other strategies they and their families adopted to survive and compensate for missing wages. One option mentioned was reducing the days going to work to reduce transportation costs. A few mentioned getting agreement from their employers to start work at 9am instead of 8am and to leave at 3pm instead of 4pm.
‘Another strategy was to engage in informal markets, including in the central business district, after work hours and as late as 10pm. Like informal workers, however, they faced increasing restrictions on such vending, including crackdowns in which authorities confiscated and destroyed second-hand clothing being sold.
‘Additional measures for coping often cited in the interviews included borrowing from relatives and friends, selling major assets as well as small personal items, relying on support from relatives’ income from agricultural production in rural areas, and substituting firewood for cooking rather than relying on electric or gas stoves.
‘Children reduced family expenditures by dropping out of universities or other tertiary schools. And women sought additional income through cross-border trading, often requiring long trips away from home. The result of wage theft for workers in the formal sector and their families, despite their efforts to compensate, was to push them into the more precarious economic situation faced by the unemployed and those in the informal sector. And the change in status came with the shock of destruction of previous hopes for economic survival and stability.’
”Another section highlights the impact of the non-payment of wages on the wives of male workers, giving additional insights into the situation of the families. The women interviewed noted that they had to carry a heavy burden, trying to ensure that the children had what they needed while continuing to support their husbands, who were trying and failing to meet their obligations to the family.
‘Some noted that they had to borrow money without the knowledge of their husbands in order to fend for their families. Others noted that they had to take over as the principal breadwinners, through activities in the informal economy, such as vending and cross-border trading.
‘In the words of one 26-year-old woman in Mutare: ‘“Currently I am the one supporting the family. “I undertake the different task-work to ensure that my family eats. “I dig wells for the people in the community that I live in. Many people approach me to do this as my rates are lower than that of the other men who do the same work. “I also do laundry, sadly though is that other women take advantage of my situation, in that when we agreed that they will pay me $4 for work, they end up paying $2 or pay in kind… “Some of the money I raise I give to my husband to enable him to go to work… “My son is now five years old, but I can’t send him to school, the money is not enough.”
‘These hardships have led to a loss of dignity and humiliation. Several cited their shame at being unable to pay back loans and debt for months. They highlighted that they had become notorious as bad debtors, leading people to shun them. Their children had been subjected to name calling, relating to the failure of the parents to pay their debts.
‘The women also stressed that it was not just the hardships themselves that were stressful, but the humiliation of their husbands not getting paid. Several noted that they had become laughing stocks in their neighbourhoods and families. They went from being able to afford to take care of themselves to being forced into the position of begging for meals and other support.’
• While civil service union leaders who spoke to the Daily News were careful not to come across as spoiling for a fight with the state – ahead of the government’s expected announcement tomorrow of concrete pay dates for this month – they hinted that all hell could break loose if they were not paid on Monday.
This comes after Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister Prisca Mupfumira announced on Tuesday that the government was hoping to provide its workers with specific July pay dates by the end of day tomorrow. We are still waiting for dates and the official dates will determine whatever we are going to do next,’ the chairperson of the Apex Council, the umbrella body representing all civil servants, Cecilia Alexander, said. But Zimbabwe Nurses Association secretary general, Enock Dongo, went a little further saying government workers wanted their July salaries on time.
‘Maybe they will pay us on Monday … so we are going for the meeting (tomorrow) first before we decide what to do after that. But for now what they should know is that we want our salaries for July in July and not later,’ he warned.
However, there are serious doubts that President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government will manage to pay all the civil servants their July salaries on time given its continuing reticence to announce concrete pay dates. This has prompted former Finance minister Tendai Biti to say that the government has reached a fiscal dead end, and that it would be ‘a miracle’ if it managed to raise enough money to pay all civil servants in full this month.
‘When I was minister, we were paying close to $300 million every month to civil servants and then we had a functioning economy. I must say that this is the first time that this is happening since 1890 that the government is failing to pay workers.
‘At the time that I was minister, there were about 336,000 workers, but now they (Zanu PF government) have more than 500,000 because they employed people ahead of the elections in 2013. We have a government that is terrible and this is causing dissatisfaction, and it’s creating anger all over. What Zanu PF has done is destabilise the state and Zanu PF is now our best lawyer to argue that this government has failed,’ Biti told the Daily News.
In the meantime, Mugabe and under-pressure Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa continue to blame targeted sanctions for the salary delays, much against both available evidence and public sentiment.
Military personnel who were hoping to be paid early this month were left bitterly disappointed last Thursday and Friday when they checked with their banks for their money – and to make matters worse, they have not been told when they will receive their remuneration for this month.
Worried analysts and opposition political parties say the government’s continued failure to pay its workers on time, particularly soldiers, could spark serious disturbances, including violent riots. Government’s failure to pay soldiers is a recipe for disaster. The military is the regime’s last line of defence and if they can’t meet their wages, it would be a serious failure which threatens national security.
‘It’s a serious statement of State failure,’ said United Kingdom-based academic and lawyer Alex Magaisa. The regime is living on borrowed time and its days are numbered. Every indication is pointing to a scenario in which the regime will, very soon, be completely incapable of paying salaries to its employees.’
What is required in Zimbabwe is a revolutionary workers’ and small farmers’ government that will develop the country through carrying out socialist policies.