A joint inspection survey by trade unions and the government reveals that most food producers in Zimbabwe are complying with covid-19 regulations but testing remains a challenge. Zimbabwe’s Federation of Food has embarked on countrywide impromptu inspections for covid-19 regulations compliance by food manufacturing and processing companies in the country. This comes as the country’s confirmed number of cases of the deadly coronavirus continue to rise, with an increasing number of cases of local people who have no history of recent travel. The food manufacturing and processing sector provides the most number of workers who have been allowed to go back to work following the relaxation of lockdown rules by President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the beginning of May. The Federation of Food and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe (FFAWUZ) is working together with the Ministry of Labour, the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), the National Employment Council for the Food/Detergents Industries and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in carrying out the inspections. The inspections involve checking for compliance with all covid-19 regulations, including body temperature checks at entry points, wearing of masks, social distancing, and provision of personal protective clothing for employees. Companies will also be expected to have sound management response plans, and notices showing procedures for employees to immediately report when they are sick or are experiencing symptoms as well as providing isolation rooms for confirmed positive cases.
FFAWUZ general secretary, Runesu Dzimiri, said they raised the idea of inspections after a covid-19 scare at Bakers Inn where 19 employees were reported to have contracted the virus and the employer was not forthcoming with the correct information. “We approached the ZCTU who contacted NSSA and the Ministry of Labour to conduct the inspections at Bakers Inn, where we found the employees had not contracted the virus. However, the issue of inspections had been discussed at the tripartite negotiating forum so FFAWUZ took advantage of that and facilitated nationwide inspections of companies in the food industry,” he said. Dzimiri said they had so far carried out inspections at 22 companies and he was happy with the compliance by most companies. “From the inspections we have done so far I can say an average 80 percent are complying with regulations. We hold separate meetings with the employers and employees where we provide them with a checklist or questionnaire. He said they also encouraged companies to provide isolation rooms to cater for confirmed cases, and to de-congest the workplace by introducing shift-work and flexible working hours.
The head of ZCTU’s Health and Safety Department, Nathan Banda, confirmed that the inspections had yielded very positive results although a few companies were not meeting the regulations. “We have discovered that about 90 percent of the companies are compliant, save for a few companies, mostly those run by the Chinese who ignore the need to provide face masks and appropriate PPE,’ he said. Banda said that while most of the companies visited so far had shown a willingness to comply with the regulations, they were facing challenges of resources. “There are also maybe a few challenges that I need to highlight here; this is more to do with the availability of resources because procurement of most of these has become expensive. Taking workers for testing has also been a big challenge as most of them are still working without being tested and it is yet to be seen when most will be taken for testing,’ Banda said. In the wake of the deadly coronavirus, companies have had to come up with different waste management systems so as to combat the spread of the virus among workers and the community in general.
The inspections have also come as a wake-up call to both employers and workers and has gone a long way in raising awareness on the reality of the virus, which has so far claimed 13 lives in the country and infected more than 1,000 people. “Generally, employers believe FFAWUZ has done a good and appropriate thing and most have expressed the desire to have the union carry out training activities within their workplaces which I found quite positive,” Banda said. The ZCTU Health and Safety Department will soon be compiling a report which will be shared among stakeholders with a view to shape and inform policy formulation.