SPARE a thought for employee-employer relations in these tough times.How is it possible to conduct meaningful collective bargaining in this turbulent economy? What are the expectations? What are the benchmarks? Where is the money?
Owing to inflation which has ravaged disposable incomes and ruined livelihoods, the worker is left extremely vulnerable to the vagaries of an imploding economy.
To fully understand the catastrophic situation we are dealing with here, we must go back to the basics. Every employee’s dream is to earn a decent living. To achieve that, the remuneration has to be reasonable. The average salary in Zimbabwe today is far from reasonable.
But what exactly is reasonable pay? It is income that enables a worker to pay for the very basics in life, for instance a roof over one’s head, food, water, electricity and healthcare. Over and above this, a worker ought to afford school fees for the children and still remain with enough to save for a rainy day.
Consider this: if the average salary in the formal sector is in the region of ZW$600—just enough to buy four kilogrammes of beef—what hope is there for a long-suffering employee who is expected to live from hand to mouth? This amount of money is not a living wage—it is a slave wage.
Low wages feed into a vicious cycle. A poorly paid worker is an unhappy worker. A disgruntled worker cannot build a competitive economy. This has an impact on productivity.
The end result is that, as the economy continues on a downward spiral, more employees are likely to abandon their workstations and go out there to explore creative ways of putting food on the table.
Workers are grappling with untold hardships and there is no hope in sight. When the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) Act was promulgated last year, there was hope that, perhaps finally, the rights and welfare of workers would now be taken more seriously.
All that enthusiasm now appears somewhat misplaced. Nothing has changed in real terms. The TNF does not even have a secretariat. Meanwhile, the toiling worker is still as wretched as ever. Life has become unbearable.
For the second time in a decade, workers are witnessing the decimation of their purchasing power, their savings and their pensions. How are people expected to survive in a country with no social safety nets? Zimbabwean society is sitting on a massive time bomb.
But when it comes to labour relations, there is obviously a flip side to the coin. Employers are also hard-pressed and will tell you that the tough economy is not leaving them much capacity to pay a living wage. In most cases this seems understandable, but there are situations where the employer unfairly refuses to pay a decent wage. Workers deserve a decent wage.
In the long term, sustainable wages can only become a reality when the economic fortunes of the country are turned around. Pathetic wages are a major factor contributing to extreme poverty—itself a threat to national survival.