Miners threaten strike over forex wage

WAGE negotiations between the Chamber of Mines and the Associated Mine Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Amwuz) have hit a deadlock over a demand by mine workers to have 60% of their minimum wage paid in foreign currency amid threats of a strike, businessdigest has learnt.

Kudzai Kuwaza

The negotiations are being held amid a deepening economic crisis characterised by a crippling liquidity crunch, acute foreign currency and fuel shortages, low capacity utilisation, dwindling investment inflows and runaway inflation which has surpassed the 700% mark decimating pensions and incomes. This has been worsened by the advent of the coronavirus pandemic which has wreaked havoc on economies and has resulted in more than 600 000 fatalities globally. Zimbabwe has recorded 26 deaths.

The two parties met on Tuesday this week with the mine workers demanding that all exporting companies pay 60% of the minimum wage in foreign currency with non-exporting mining companies paying the entire minimum wage in local currency. The minimum wage they had agreed is ZW$14 000.

Amwuz president Tinago Ruzive told businessdigest yesterday that the employers’ body has backtracked on its initial agreed position to pay at least 50% of the minimum wage in foreign currency.

“We met on Tuesday thinking that we were close to an agreement. We had agreed in a previous meeting on a minimum wage of ZW$14 000 and had also agreed that 50% of that will be paid in foreign currency by mines that export. However, the employers somersaulted on Tuesday, saying they cannot pay part of the wages in forex.

We were shocked,” Ruzive said. “It was a very tense meeting. Mine workers are now threatening to down tools over this.”

However, Ruzive emphasised that the threat by its constituency to go on strike was just “a bread-and-butter issue” and had no connection to the planned protests against the government by anti-corruption campaigners on July 31.

Ruzive said the two parties will meet again on Tuesday next week where they will “try to find each other” and avert a strike which could have a devastating impact not only on the mining sector but also the economy.

The demand for foreign currency wages by the mine workers is part of a nationwide push by workers for a living wage.

This demand has been prompted by the weakening of the Zimbabwean dollar, which is earned by the majority of workers. The local unit has rapidly depreciated at a time the prices of basic commodities have skyrocketed as retailers index the price of their products against the greenback. The government banned the multi-currency regime and made the local unit the sole legal tender in June last year through statutory instrument 142 of 2019.

However, it has backtracked on this, allowing the use of the greenback for domestic transactions.