Singing the blues as hunger blights the festive season
MOST Zimbabwean workers, including civil servants, are facing a bleak Christmas due to low disposable incomes that have impoverished the professional class and their dependents amid worsening economic hardships.
A survey by The NewsHawks revealed that workers are failing to purchase basic commodities ahead of the holidays. Citizens are already facing a dark holiday owing to rolling 18-hour power outages and their failure to meet basic living expenses, let alone merry-making, is piling on the misery.
This month, the government approved a US$150 minimum wage for workers, from the old wage pegged at ZW$2 574, but most employers are yet to implement the newly agreed salary scale.
This means non-skilled workers, in terms if the law, are expected to survive on salaries as pathetic as US$5 per month.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat), the total consumption poverty line (TCPL) for Zimbabwe rose by 2.5% to ZW$27 297 per person in September from ZW$26 622.83 recorded in August.
This means an individual requires ZW$27 297 to purchase both food and non-food items as at September 2022 in order not to be deemed poor.
The food poverty line represents the amount of money that an individual needs, to afford the required energy intake of 2 100 calories, according to Zimstat. Worker organisations who spoke to The NewsHawks said the government should fulfil its promise to pay a reviewed minimum wage.
“Our point is very clear, the minimum wage is non-professionals. So, it does not apply to us. We are a professional group, and therefore, minimum wage has no resonance with our claim or demand for US$540.
“But all the same, we hope that the minimum wage of US$150 will be judiciously given to those who are working on farms, because we are aware that they are earning far less than that,” says Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe.
He said while raising the minimum wage is a good idea, it does not resonate with their demand for pre-2018 United States dollar-indexed salaries.
“As a group of professional teachers, we are calling for the restoration of United States dollar salaries that we were earning before October 2018.
“We also believe that government should judiciously implement non-monetary agreements that have been reached. Such include assisting teachers to pay fees for their children, as well as class teacher, head of department, infancy incentives.
“We also want them to implement many others which have been agreed, and have never seen the day under the Public Service Commission (PSC),” Zhou said.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), one of the negotiators in the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) alongside the government and the Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe, says it is pushing for the United States dollar salary issue on other platforms. “There is a campaign that wages should be paid in United States dollars,” said ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo.
“We took that campaign to the TNF, and that has been our position that we have brought forward together with other social partners.
“So the employers are aware of these demands. This position is not at the TNF only, but to bargaining councils. In some sectors, they (employers) have started paying us Unit ed States dollars. Not 100%, but a component of the salary is paid in United States dollars.”
With the country experiencing one of its worst food insecurity seasons, an estimated six million people out of 16.6 million people (33%) have insufficient food, according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac).
Workers have been struggling to access basic commodities. The factors driving food insecurity in Zimbabwe are multifaceted and compounded by climate change and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With an increasing number of households already experiencing hardships, Zimbabwe is projected to be continually affected by the food security crisis in 2023. According to the 2022 ZimVac report, the worst affected provinces are Matabeleland North (58%), Masvingo (41%) and Matabeleland South (36%).