Appalling farm worker conditions

Working and living conditions of Workers in the Agricultural sector in Zimbabwe

Report By Naome Chakanya

December, 2016

1.  Introduction and background

1.1 Research Methodology

The information provided in this report was obtained through a triangulation research method, meaning it includes both primary and secondary sources of data and interviews with key informants (trade union officials, trade union members). In this regard, the multiple strategies were used namely; desk review, interviews and questionnaires administration.

Desk Review: A review of all the available relevant reports and documents including, the Labour Act, Collective Bargaining Agreement, research publications and national policy documents.

Interviews: To solicit inputs on the of agriculture sector workers, interviews were carried out with the both the union leadership and selected union members from selected provinces of GAPWUZ.

One Focused Group Discussion-FGDs: This was held back to back with an ongoing programme comprising of 30 women farm workers.

Questionnaire Survey: Questionnaires were administered and filled in by union members. A total of 15 questionnaires were filled in by union members and officers in major cities and towns.

1.2 Limitations of the Research

Due to the financial limitations, the research focused on a limited number of questionnaires and one FGD and did not conduct farm visits. Information was sourced from key informants from the Agriculture and Plantations Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ). The research also relied on desk review and research reports the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ).

1.4 Outline of the Paper

The rest of the paper is outlined as follows: Section 2 provides the country context and labour legislation. This is followed by Section 3 on working conditions and impacts. Section 4 provides the conclusion followed by Section 5 with recommendations.

2. Country context and labour legislation 

2.1 Situational Analysis of Zimbabwean Economy 

Zimbabwe’s economic situation represents a fragile state characterised by an unsustainably high external debt, policy discontent, massive deindustrialization, informalization (casualisation) of employment (94,5% according to the 2014 Labour Force Survey), poor export performance and capital leakages. The volatile political environment has negatively affected the country, causing a high risk factor for foreign investors. Economic growth declined from 3.8 percent in 2014 to 1.1 percent in 2015 and is estimated to further decline to 0.6 percent by 2016 (2017 National Budget Statement). The country is in a deflationary state (negative inflation estimated to close at -1.5% by end of 2016) reflecting price correction, weak aggregate demand, tight liquidity and the depreciation of the South African Rand against the United Stated Dollar. An unsustainable expenditure mix characterised by employment costs constituting above 70 percent of total expenditures and 81 percent of total revenues continues to undermine capital investments. 

2.2 Agriculture Sector Performance in Zimbabwe

The agriculture sector is the backbone of the Zimbabwe’s economy. More than 70 percent of its population derive its livelihood from this sector. The agriculture sector contributes the highest figure in terms of the country’s wealth and employment. The sector contributes about 15% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, the haphazard Fast Track Land Reform Programme has had negative impact on agricultural performance since 2000. This has been worsened by inadequate financing, late provision of inputs by government and lately climate change which continues to pose uncertainties to the weather patterns. Over the past five years, the national budget allocation to the sector has remained below the 2003 Maputo Declaration by African Heads and Governments on committing at least 10% of national budgetary resources to the sector. The 2016 El-Nino induced drought directly impacted negatively on the sector. The 2017 National Budget noted that a severe drought, for the second consecutive year, had a heavy toll on agriculture production, with some crops such as maize recording merely 511 000 tons, against the average national requirement of 1 800 000 tons, resulting in a huge import bill for the country. Consequently, agriculture recorded a growth decline of -3.7% in 2016. However, in 2017, agriculture is projected to grow by 12% driven by higher output from major crops such as maize, cotton and tobacco, as well as milk production. All these negative developments in agriculture performance also has a negative bearing on the agriculture workers welfare.

In terms of employment, the agriculture’s sector (including forestry and fishing) contributes about 67 percent of total employment (Labour Force and Child Labour Survey, 2014). The sector has backward and forward linkages with other sectors of the economy especially the manufacturing sector. This means that the agriculture sector provides inputs for the manufacturing sector whilst at the same time it also gets its inputs from the manufacturing sector. Thus, if there is poor performance in the agriculture sector, the negative impact will trickle down to the manufacturing sector and consequently other economic sectors. 

2.2 Labour legislative framework

The Labour Act - Like all other private sector workers, agriculture sector workers are covered by the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01). According to the Labour Act, workers in the agriculture sector are entitled to the following rights:

  1. Contract of Employment
  2. Maternity Leave for female workers
  3. Strike action – though with bureaucratic procedures
  4. Special Leave of 12 calendar days per year
  5. Vacation Leave of 30 days per year
  6. Sick Leave of 180 days per year as follows:
  • 90 days sick leave on full pay and the other 90 days on half pay;
  • If sick leave exceeds 180 days, the worker is granted accrued leave on half pay or without, based on employers discretion;

?  Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) encompassing the following:

  • Right to a safe working environment;
  • Right to refuse dangerous work without any protective clothing;
  • Right to adequate protection;
  • Right to first aid and transport provided by the employer;
  • Right to periodic payments from the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), among others.

The  Labour Amendment Act, 2015 -  The amended came as a bid to protect workers’ rights following the Supreme Court judgment of 17 July 2015 which gave employers the right to dismiss workers upon notice. Agriculture sector workers are also covered by this Amendment. 

Collective Bargaining Agreement of the Agriculture Sector– provides for the wages and conditions of employment in the agriculture sector borrowing from the main Labour Act 

2.3 Trade Unions in the Agriculture sector

The active trade union covering the agriculture sector is called the General and Agriculture Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), an affiliate of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). GAPWUZ was founded in 1982 and was registered by the government as a trade union in 1985. GAPWUZ represents agriculture workers in the following five sub sectors; general agriculture, horticulture, timber, agro-processing and fishery. However, over the years to date, GAPWUZ membership was disturbed by the government’s fast track Land Reform Programme of 2000. The programme resulted in haphazard occupation of white-owned farms and displacement of a majority of farmworkers and emergence of “new” black farmers most of whom are anti-trade unionism. However, GAPWUZ has remained strong representing the rights and interests of the agriculture workers in all the five-subsectors.

3. Working Conditions and impacts

3.1 Wages and minimum wages

Collective bargaining for the agriculture sector is undertaken through the National Employment Council (NEC) for the Agriculture sector. The NEC comprises of the employers organisations and the trade unions in the agriculture sector. Thus, wages and conditions in the agriculture sector are determined at the NEC level. Table 1 below indicates the wage trends in the agriculture sector versus the Food Poverty Line (FPL) and the Poverty Datum Line (PDL). PDL is the equivalent of a living wage, the minimum amount required per month for a family of five to sustain their livelihood......

To read the full report by Naome Chakanya, who is Senior Researcher from the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ), click on the link below: