Agric wage negotiations head for deadlock

TAURAI MANGUDHLA

ONGOING agricultural sector wage negotiations could be headed for a deadlock, amid reports workers have demanded a 250% hike while employers have said they cannot afford it under the current economic circumstances.

This week, the Commercial Farmers Union confirmed negotiations were underway but said farmers were struggling under Covid-19 restrictions.

The industry’s salaries have for a while lagged behind rising inflation as the local dollar weakens.

But agriculture remains the major employer in the country.

Week-long negotiations that are underway will likely bring no real joy to employees who are demanding a minimum 250% wage hike.

The National Employment Council for the Agriculture Sector in Zimbabwe in September said the minimum wage for the industry had been increased to a $4 600, from $2 960.

Commercial Farmers Union president Andy Pascoe on Tuesday said the wage negotiators were to be wrapped up at the end of this week.

“We are dealing with labour wage negotiations and we are putting together a paper for wage negotiations for the sector,” Pascoe said in a telephone interview.

“They are going on this entire week for six sectors in agriculture and all of them are negotiating now. From our sector we are fighting a harsh economic climate in Zimbabwe, there is an increase in the foreign currency retention by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) and the exchange rate hasn’t moved over the past months or so,” Pasco said.

Although the RBZ early January scrapped a directive for all unutilised foreign currency receipts to be liquidated within 60 days, the bank increased the export surrender requirement from 30% to 40% on all export receipts.

“We are of the view that we can’t really afford to increase wages at this time, so that’s kind of where we are trying to manage because the employees have got very high expectations, they spoke of over 250% increase.

“We have been hit by Covid-19 and they have various things they want to see which are beyond the capacity of employers at this stage.”

Currently a number of employers in the sector have introduced incentives with a view to provide basics for their employees, the most common one being food hampers.

Pascoe said unavailability of labour had become a major challenge to some farmers in some parts of the country. In cases where labour is scarce, he said, it had become too expensive and pushed the cost of production up.