Probe income disparities

“CATASTROPHIC hike in domestic wages”, screamed the headline to an Eric Bloch column, (Zimbabwe Independent, April 29).

Amongst his criticisms of the

newly-announced minimum wages for domestic workers were that many employers “cannot afford to pay the newly-gazetted wages”, and that other lowly paid workers would demand similar increases.

He cited the example of agricultural workers demanding an increase in their minimum wage from $90 000 to $1 million per month, an increase which he claimed “very few, if any sectors of agriculture”, could afford to pay and still remain viable.

One has to wonder whether our agricultural-based economic activities deserve to survive if they are based on such slave wages as $90 000 per month.

If the agricultural sector cannot afford to pay even as little as $1 million per month (US$50 or less at the real — ie parallel rate of exchange) — then this must surely call into question the supposed efficiency of commercial agriculture in the country.

However, it is not the merits or otherwise of awarding increases to such categories of lowly paid workers as domestic and farm employees that concerns me so much as the salary levels at the other end of the scale.

It is a feature of our shrinking economy that some are getting obscenely wealthy, and that they are doing so — inevitably — at the expense of everyone else.

Bloch is no doubt aware that ultimately, our standard of living is determined by the size of the “national cake” that we produce.

He is also no doubt aware that another important element affecting the general welfare (not the welfare of the generals) concerns how the national cake is divided — a matter that becomes of even greater significance when the “national cake” is shrinking as it is in Zimbabwe.

Might I suggest that Bloch devotes a future column to analysing the effect on the economy, and on the general welfare of Zimbabweans, of the income levels of the country’s top earners.

No doubt their huge salaries are good for such businesses as those selling billion dollar luxury vehicles or those constructing multi-billion dollar mansions, or even — at a more modest level — those importing and retailing up-market items of groceries.

But it is doubtful if their income levels are justified either by their productivity or by their impact on such long forgotten (in Zanu PF’s Zimbabwe) notions as social justice.

It might be enlightening for us to know, not just what domestic workers and farm workers earn, but also what the so-called “captains of industry” and the nation’s “chefs” take home every month.

Perhaps I should say “what they earn every month” as it is more than likely that a considerable proportion of their monthly incomes don’t get “taken home”.

Is Bloch of the view that the wages of the lowest paid are a bigger problem for our economy than the incomes of the highest paid?

If he is of the view that increasing the basic minimum wage for domestic and farm workers to $1 million per month is unsustainable, does he think that the levels of remuneration of our “captains of industry and commerce”, and those of the “chefs” are any more sustainable, or justifiable?

And if excessive wage increases (and excessive wages) are inflationary, should we not know what, for example, those leading the nation’s fight against inflation are earning?

Perhaps Bloch can enlighten us.

As for myself, it is many years since I was able to afford a full-time domestic worker.

RES Cook,