A showdown is brewing between workers and employers in the tea and timber sectors due to demands by company bosses to reduce minimum wages paid to their employees, with the issue heading for arbitration, businessdigest has learnt.
Sources privy to the dispute said employers in the timber sector, including Allied Timbers, Border Timbers and Wattle Company, are calling for employees’ minimum wages to be reduced from the current US$150 to US$105, a stance being furiously resisted by workers.
“The employers in the timber sector want the wages to be reduced from US$150 to US$105 and they are citing the poor performance of their companies on the market,” an insider said.
“The workers’ representative union, the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe argued that the companies should maintain the minimum wage until the economy improves instead of cutting their salaries.”
The two parties have met twice to discuss the matter, but they have failed to agree. Should they fail to agree when they meet, for the third time, the issue will be taken to arbitration, sources said.
A similar dispute has also arisen in the tea sector with employers, whom include Tanganda Tea Company and Southdown Holdings Ltd, demanding that the minimum wage be reduced from the current US$95 to US$72, a move the workers refuse to accept.
“We have met twice with employers and they are citing the difficult economic environment as the reason they want to reduce workers’ salaries but we have said they must maintain the minimum wage,” a source involved in the discussions revealed.
“We are meeting again and if we fail to find a way forward then we will have to go to arbitration.”
The development comes at a time when the agricultural sector is undergoing a very difficult period with a number of employers within the sector applying for exemptions citing financial constraints.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) secretary general Japhet Moyo said the development comes as no surprise given the prevailing environment.
“This development does not surprise us given that in the clothing sector the workers were awarded a 0% increment with new employees coming into the sector starting on a salary which is 20% less than the current minimum wage,” Moyo said.
He added that it was sad that while workers bore the brunt of the shrinking economy and wage cuts, employers maintained their lavish lifestyles sending their children to expensive schools overseas.
Moyo said the wage cuts would not help develop the economy but will merely enable employers to save up on their profits at the expense of the workers.