JOHANNESBURG Stock Exchange-listed Tongaat Hulett’s Zimbabwe operation Triangle (Pvt) Ltd is embroiled in a row with its sugar cane cutters in the sugar growing Lowveld region, to whom it is allegedly offering “slave wages” at a time the company has posted profits.
Elias Mambo/Tatenda Chitagu
The sugar cane cutters earn US$6,50 a day which translates to US$160 a month. An employee who requested anonymity said the company has been exploiting employees for a long time.
“We have never had a salary increase and the US$6,50 we get a day is not commensurate with the work we do for eight hours,” he said.
“We are supposed to cut about two stakes of sugar cane which measure five metres by two and it is a very hard job for a day,” said the employee.
“This is oppression. It is modern day slavery. Imagine this is all we get after all this hard labour. It is too little,” the worker said, wiping off sweat with the brow of his hand in the sweltering Chiredzi heat.
“Our unions also deduct earnings from the little we earn but do nothing to improve our welfare,” said another worker.
Zimbabwe sugar milling industry workers union secretary-general Admore Hwarare said his association has tried to represent the workers, but was meeting stiff resistance from government.
“We are being hit hard by government legislation which stipulates that all those under agriculture should have a minimum wage of US$80 per month,” Hwarare said.
“I have fought hard to represent all the sugar cane cutters so they can get twice the minimum wage, with free accommodation, free transport and medical cover,” he said.
Repeated efforts to contact Tongaat Hulett’s public relations manager Adelaide Chikunguru failed as her cellphone kept ringing without being answered throughout the week, while an SMS message was not responded to. Chikunguru only responded to an email sent to her by acknowledging receipt of questions.
“Your questions have been received, we will revert,” she wrote.
Tongaat Hulett last week reported a 4% rise in earnings to R1,11 billion for its year ended March, with the company’s chief executive officer Peter Staude saying earnings were expected to increase in the full year ahead.