WAGE negotiations between the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union Zimbabwe and employers have broken down with the deadlock being referred for arbitration.
The union’s information officer Ndaizivei Kamoto said they had demanded a wage increase from US$70 to between US$170 and US$180 during negotiations held in June for the horticultural and agro sector respectively, but employers said they are only prepared to increase the wage to US$75.
“We have been holding negotiations for the agro and horticulture sector since June but have failed to agree,” Kamoto said. “We have referred it for arbitration. But the longer the arbitration takes the more the workers will suffer.”
She said the employers argued that they could not afford to pay the wages by unions as they were struggling to make a profit on their produce.
Kamoto said although they had won the arbitration case for workers in the timber sector to be awarded a wage minimum of US$150 up from US$90, many employers had applied for exemption citing inability to pay the stipulated minimum.
She revealed that since the beginning of farm invasions in 2000 where land was redistributed to address what the Zanu PF government called land imbalances, a plethora of problems have plagued farmworkers.
She said farmworkers were living in squalid conditions as some of the new farmers did not have accommodation facilities for workers.
Some farmworkers are now staying in tobacco barns in farming areas in Marondera and Chegutu.
Kamoto said workers are also being forced to walk long distances, some as far as 20kms in search of clean water as water pumps and other equipment used to pump water had been destroyed during the farm invasions. She added that those who are unable to travel long distances for water have resorted to taking water from rivers posing a great risk to their health.
The union’s membership as a result, she said, had dwindled from over half a million in 2000 to just 20 000 currently. This, she added, was further reduced to 15 000 during the off season.
Kamoto said her organisation’s efforts to assist their members are facing hostility from farm owners particularly in Mashonaland East and West.