A FRESH labour dispute is looming in the sugar industry after workers resolved to engage giant producer, Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe (THZ), demanding a whopping 69 percent wage increase.
The Zimbabwe Sugar Milling Association (ZISMEA) has reportedly turned down Zimbabwe Sugar Milling Industry Workers Union (ZISMIWU)’s proposal of 69 percent increase, saying the employer could only afford 4,83 percent increase.
This has led to the two parties referring the matter for yet another arbitration process, setting the stage for a bruising court battle. According to a letter of appointment addressed to retired judge Justice George Smith, the two parties, ZISMIWU and ZISMEA have agreed to refer the matter for voluntary arbitration over the 69 percent wage increase proposal, by the same judge.
“You are hereby appointed in terms of section 93 (5) of the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01) as arbitrator in the matter of ZISMIWU and ZISMEA. “The following shall be the terms of reference — to determine whether or not to increase the wage for ZSMIWU or 4,83 percent offered by the ZISMEA. If the answer to the above is in the affirmative the arbitrator is to determine the rate of such increase,” reads part of the letter.
In an interview, ZISMIWU secretary general Retired Captain Faster Gono said the workers’ representative was presently negotiating for another wage increase that will cushion employees from the prevailing economic hardships.
He said the workers last year won an arbitration award of 15 percent wage increase through the same arbitrator and another court battle was looming.
“We have since been given Justice Smith, as our arbitrator again after he assumed the same role in our last year labour dispute with the employer. We want a 69 percent wage increase but the employer is offering a paltry 4,83 percent,” said Rtd Capt Gono.
The employer’s proposed wage adjustment, Rtd Capt Gono said, only translated to a mere $10 per employee.
“A 69 percent increase is realistic and the employer can afford it as the employees will get a minimum wage of $350 per month. We feel the sugar employees are working hard and they deserve better remuneration. The $207 per month before deductions is not sustainable,” he said.
The lowest grade worker at the lowveld company earns $207 monthly before deductions, which is far less when compared to their regional counterparts in countries such as Mozambique and South Africa.
In these countries, the lowest paid worker earns between $450 and $600 monthly. At one time workers embarked on a three-week strike that grounded operations at the company’s two milling plants, Hippo Valley Estates and Triangle Estates. The industrial action was called off following the intervention of the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare.
At that time the ministry asked the workers to return to work while their grievances were being looked into.
The company argued that the wages were above the recommended rates in the agricultural sector and was adamant it was not going to give in to the workers’ demands.
This prompted ZISMIWU to approach the Labour Court, which could not however solve the impasse leading to a voluntary arbitration that ruled in favour of the workers.