ZIMBABWE Tobacco Industrial Workers’ Union (ZTIWU) has formally written to Finance minister Mthuli Ncube pleading for an increase of the tax-free threshold of their salaries, saying its members are struggling due to worsening economic hardships.
In a letter dated 17 May 2023 signed by ZTIWU secretary-general Emmanuel Mariro, the workers said their wages are being affected immensely by the hyperinflation which has seen prices of basic food commodities and living expenses skyrocketing.
“The Zimbabwe Tobacco Industry Workers’ Union is a duly registered trade union to represent the interest of employees in the Tobacco industry. The Trade union is hereby requesting your good office to relook on the tax bracket of the lower income earner. The employees note that due to currency depreciation coupled with salary increases in line with inflation, employees now invariably fall in higher tax brackets thereby lowering disposable incomes,” wrote Mariro.
He added: “Needless to say that the bulk of the workers are on seasonal contracts having a duration of three to four months. If the employees can get their wages with tax-free adjusted for the better in USD. The workers are struggling with hyper-inflation and high taxation. The employees who work for three to four months in the industry are suffering. Our request is that the tax-free threshold be increased to USD350 as that will help employees.
“Your assistance in this regard will go a long way in addressing the plight of the workers hence we support all monetary and fiscal policies but on taxation help the workers.”
The NewsHawks also gathered that wages in the private sector and salaries in the public service have also been eroded by the galloping inflation and workers are suffering. In the private furniture and timber sector, workers are earning as little as US$105 a month.
Artingson Magume, the secretary-general of the Progressive Furniture, Timber and Allied Workers’ Union (PFTAWU), confirmed the development and revealed that wages have not been reviewed in eight months despite a steep rise in the cost of living due to rising inflation.
“Workers in our sector are being paid US$105 and a component of RTGS which is equivalent to US$95 at interbank market rate. From that money that is where deductions like NSSA, PAYE tax, medical aid, funeral cover among others are taken.”
“The workers are wallowing in poverty and cannot meet basic needs to cover them in a month.” “Workers in the furniture, manufacturing and timber processing had therefore nothing to celebrate on May 1 Workers’ Day since there are no wage increments for past 8 months from both NEC furniture and NEC lumber due to bad negotiations and the relation-voluntary NEC is hamstringing our right to collective bargaining,” he said.
Magume insisted that there is urgent need for the finalisation of the new Labour Act Amendment Bill.
“If the Labour Act Amendment Bill is passed into law, we feel that it will go a long way in improving the conditions of service for our members as well as open up avenues for better salaries of the workers. We are demanding a minimum wage of US$400 and it is a matter of urgency that employers must take heed and implement,” he said.
Progressive Commercial Trades and Allied Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Hundushi Nhundu reiterated that workers’ struggle for survival has intensified.
“Workers have suffered to an extent of dying of stress-related illness because of meagre salaries and wages they are getting.”
“Furthermore, workers are reeling from high cost of living, inflation skyrocketing to alarming levels, corruption, policy inconsistencies and job security problems.
“The majority of workers are on fixed term and suffer long hours of work with no overtime paid, works council resolutions are not implemented, employers are being big bulls in a china shop because of high unemployment in the country.
“There is no social protection by unscrupulous investors who are not providing protective clothing, right to maternity leave on full pay while sexual harassment and gender inequality have caused untold suffering to the vulnerable workers,” he said.
Nhundu said demands of workers in his sector is a salary of US$440. Teachers are currently earning US$250 in allowances and a further US$80 allowance converted at the interbank rate.
The salary component remains in local currency at around ZW$80 000. The local currency component includes housing and transport allowances which when converted to US dollars amount to around US$7 each.
Obert Masaraure, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) president, told The NewsHawks that there is massive disgruntlement in schools over paltry salaries.
“The ordinary teacher with a family of six will need a minimum of US$200 for rentals alone. Transport allowance for a full month is at US$80. School fees for three children will be at US$540 per month. Functional medical aid is around US$160 per month. Food is around US$200 per month. Clothing and other bills will take the figure to a total of US$1 260.
“The employer is paying just 25% of the monthly bill of a teacher. Resultantly, teachers are trapped in debt. Loan sharks are feeding off the suffering teachers. The majority of payslips are in the negative. “Teachers are transferring their learners from boarding schools to day schools. Eventually, the teachers’ children are dropping out of school for failing to pay fees,” he said.
Masaraure added that his union was approached by 2 300 members who were seeking support to pay exam fees for their children for the first term while 3 500 more have written formal requests of support with medical bills.
“In all circumstances the union has failed to assist because the union also relies on subscriptions from members. When members are starving, the union also starves. “Teachers have no savings and they will all retire on a pittance and die miserable deaths, most probably from curable diseases after failing to access healthcare.
“The teachers must realise that their labour is their only source of income. For a too long a time, teachers have been over-generous with their labour, donating it to an ungrateful employer,” he said.
As the second school term begins next week, Masaraure said teachers have resolved to once again withdraw their labour, demanding a living wage.
“The nation should prioritise feeding the goose that lays the golden egg. The teachers and other civil servants are sweating to keep the national functional, yet the ruling elites and the politically exposed persons loot the nation dry. Corruption must be arrested and neo-liberalism must be abandoned,” he said.
Takavafira Zhou, the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe president, also confirmed that urban teachers are wallowing in poverty and bemoaned the discrepancies that are there between their salaries and those of state security operatives who last month got a 400% pay hike.
“Because of the pathetic salaries and conditions of service, teachers have fallen from grace to grass with monotonous regularity. They are failing to pay fees for their own children and often forced to report for work to teach other people’s children when their own children are at home by virtue of their poverty.
“Teachers are always scavenging for food, a situation that has affected their contact time with learners. Many are facing psychological challenges and are now mentally affected. There are high cases of mental stress, suicide and divorce among teachers.
“There are also high cases of children of teachers dropping out of school as teachers are failing to pay fees for their children. What is more worrisome is the discrimination teachers are facing as other government workers are getting salaries six times that of teachers, even though their qualifications, responsibilities and years of service are insignificant in comparison with those of teachers,” said Zhou.
He proposed that, for a start, the government should restore the purchasing power parity of teachers’ basic salary of US$540 as at October 2018. “An education allowance of US$100 per month (not indexed bank rate) will go a long way in alleviating the payment of exorbitant school fees for their children.
“Reasonable accommodation and transport allowances in US dollars must be given to teachers in light of the sky-rocketing of costs and in light of the fact that a family of six needs US$250 for rentals per month. “US$30 clothing allowance per month must be given to teachers. There is need to intrinsically motivate teachers so that they are dynamic and innovative in blending theory and life experience to engineer a skills revolution in the education system,” he said.