Sugar plantation workers in the lowveld are up in arms with their employer Tongaat Hullet (Pvt) after negotiations for a salary increase crumbled spoiling for a strike action.

 

The workers whose minimum earning is $138-00 per month are among the least paid and their union has failed to unlock an increment from the employer at the recent collective bargaining were represented by the Zimbabwe Sugarcane Milling Workers’ Union (ZISMWU) are complaining that after deductions, they are left with $100 net salary.

The union failed to convince the employer to award the employees a 39 percent salary increment resulting in a deadlock. The workers are now demanding a minimum of $250-00. The matter is now set for arbitration.

Sugar plantation workers have been having problems with their employer over better salaries for years and in 2015 they embarked on a strike where more than 16 000 workers downed tools but the  four-week long industrial action did not yield the much needed results as the employer did not respond positively to the workers ‘grievances despite promises to look into the matter once they returned for work.

Some of the employees were later fired for taking part in the crippling strike which saw the company temporarily ceasing operations.

Meanwhile the Food Federation and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe (FFAWUZ) which has an affiliate organising workers in the same industry says it is worried over the continued impasse and the meagre salaries being earned by workers.

FFAWUZ General Secretary Runesu Dzimiri workers continued to be subjugated by the employer the negotiating unions lacked collective bargaining skills  adding that they were ready to tilt the status quo to bring a new dispensation to workers.

“We are organising with our affiliate the Sugar Milling and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe (SMAWUZ) and we are equipped with skilled and seasoned negotiators from the food industry who can ably represent the affected membership. We are not a union that that politics with workers issues but be present facts. It is unacceptable that workers in such a lucrative industry continue to earn such meagre wages when there are unions. Such unions are not serious, they are only purporting to be representing workers when they are actually self-serving,” he said.     

Dzimiri said SMAWUZ which had recruited more than 6000 members in 2014 but had its registration withdrawn was already on the ground after it was issued with another registration certificate early this year.

“SMAWUZ is already on the ground and we are already formulating structures and training them on genuine trade unionism as well as collective bargaining. We cannot continue to have a situation where workers lose jobs after engaging in job actions. The union (ZISMIWU) has been ill advising workers. We want to build the critical mass of unions through membership recruitment and retention by safeguarding their jobs and servicing them so that they appreciate the value of belonging to a union,” he said.   

The impasse between the two parties has dragged on because the company submits that the employees were classified under the agricultural industry and their dues were above the recommended rates. On the other hand employees argue that the company subsidiaries in Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa give their workers between $400-00 and $700-00 and yet the local subsidiary was more productive compared to the others.

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