Union fights for farm workers' plight

HARARE - The plight of farm workers continues to deteriorate as farm owners are failing to pay wages on time with some going for months without paying salaries.

The Daily News Assistant  Editor Maxwell Sibanda caught up with secretary-general of Progressive Agriculture and Allied industries Workers Union of Zimbabwe (Paawuz), Raymond Sixpence whose union is fighting to have farm worker wages increased from the current $75 per month.

Sixpence said his union has more than 100 cases in the courts in which farm owners, most of them politicians owe farm workers substantial amounts of money in unpaid dues.

Q: What generally does Paawuz represent?

A: We represent farm, agro and plantation industries’ workers.

Q: Are you registered and how big is your union?

A: Yes, Paawuz is registered as a trade union by the ministry of Labour under the Labour Act. The union is fast growing and has a membership across the country, in all provinces. We have a membership of over 6000 and efforts are currently underway to recruit members.

Q: What is your rallying motto as an organisation and what is your agenda?

A: Our rallying motto is to be a leading trade union in the agriculture industry and be able to give our members value of subscriber membership. We are pushing for a living wage, better working conditions on Zimbabwean farms, improving educational facilities like schools and providing better health infrastructure like clinics.

Q: How much is the lowest paid farm worker getting and were you part of the union that negotiated that wage. 

A: The lowest aid farm worker earns $75 per month which is far below poverty datum line and it is something that we have prioritised to fight for as a union. We were not part of the negotiating teams because we do not have a seat in the National Employment Council for Agriculture.

Q: But is it not your right as a union to be part of the council and what action have you taken towards your admission into the council?

A: Yes, it is our constitutional right and in terms of the Labour Act. We have applied for our admission with the council and presented them with our membership list. We have been patiently waiting for over a year for their response. We have also written to the minister of Labour through the registrar and we have also consulted our membership and the members resolved to stop paying National Employment Council dues until we are admitted into the council.

Q: What challenges are you facing as a union?

A: Besides the admission into the Council, we have problems with greedy politicians who behave like capitalists as they are always threatening farm workers. Unfortunately, we have seen some union officials getting kickbacks, hence let farm owners exploit workers. They know farm workers are vulnerable because they earn peanuts and they have no savings and they have dependence syndrome which makes them prone to perpetual abuse.

Q: What have been your efforts to stop abuses?

A: We are engaging our members through training and teaching them about their rights and we are soon to engage with the ministry of Labour.

Q: There have been some concerns from white farmer about your conduct, what might be the problem?

A: It suits them to denounce us, but we have always reminded them to respect the labour laws of the country and we stand guided by the statutory instruments on agriculture and the Labour Act.

Q: What is your advice to farm workers?

A: I urge all farm workers to join the union because unionised labour is better placed when negotiating. I also encourage farmers to negotiate peacefully and professionally with the unions and shun the behaviour of victimising workers.

Q: Anything to add?

A: We urged the new minister, Air Marshal Perrance Shiri to deal with farmers that are abusing  their employees as farm workers’ rights were trampled upon as some farmers boasted about connections within Zanu PF.