FARM workers are being subjected to rampant abuse, particularly by indigenous farmers commonly referred to as “new farmers”, with some workers receiving tomatoes, cabbages and other produce as payment in lieu of cash, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
Farm workers earn between US$65 and US$95 per month.
General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwuz) general-secretary Gift Muti on Tuesday said farm workers are getting a raw deal as indigenous farmers are reluctant to pay wages, with most workers going for months without payment.
“We have a major problem as farm workers are being abused and being paid with produce such as tomatoes and off-layer chickens,” Muti said. “We have taken these cases of abuse to the courts as well as for arbitration, but there are serious delays in addressing these grievances.”
He said less than half of the workers are being paid their salaries in cash. However, those farm workers who received wages in cash got their payments in drips and drabs.
Muti said the majority of employers cited the harsh economic climate as the reason for failing to pay workers’ wages, which they say has forced them to resort to paying them in produce.
Efforts by his officers to visit farms to address the issue of abuse has met stiff resistance from farm owners, with some threatening violence should the officers dare step onto their properties.
“My officers have had problems when they go to the farms and try to engage farm owners on the plight of workers. Some farm owners, including senior government officials, have threatened to shoot them if they enter their farms,” Muti said.
He said abuse of workers was prevalent on tea and timber plantations where employers have flatly refused to pay the stipulated wages for the workers. As a result of non-payment farm workers, particularly in Manicaland, Mashonaland West and Bindura, have resorted to gold panning, among other informal activities, for survival.
Acting Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Gideon Shoko expressed concern over the growing trend of employers failing to pay their workers’ salaries.
“This failure of employers to pay workers is rampant,” Shoko said.
“We have companies such as the Grain Marketing Board, Caps Holdings and the National Railways of Zimbabwe, which have failed to pay their workers. This is a very big problem we have in the country.”
The number of farm workers in Zimbabwe has declined from more than half a million in 2000 when land reform began, to less than 20 000 currently. The number is likely to be further decimated after the new wave of farm invasions, said Muti.