Government upped domestics’ wages to fix MDC


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In what critics see as a deliberate move to get back at the urban voters, most of whom are considered supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the government overrode a decision by the Wages and Salaries Advisory Board and announced a new minimum wage for domestic workers that was double that agreed on.

According to the minutes of the meeting of the advisory board held on March 1 2005, the board had agreed on a minimum wage of $400 000 a month, which was reached after averaging the proposals of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the government and employers.

But the government, which had initially suggested a minimum wage of $186 880, announced a new minimum wage of $800 000, double the figure agreed by the board.

Ironically the new wage was announced on April 1 as results of the parliamentary elections held on March 31 trickled in showing that the urban voter was still solidly behind the MDC. It was backdated to March 1.

The March 1 meeting was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, the ZCTU, the Zimbabwe Domestic and Allied Workers Union, the Public Service Commission, the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (EMCOZ), the Ministry of Industry and International Trade and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.

The labour movement had suggested a minimum wage of $700 000, arguing that the current wage of $83 000 was 14 percent of the food poverty line, which stood at $565 626.37 in September.

The Food Poverty Line, which is compiled by the Central Statistics Office and represents the minimum consumption expenditure to ensure that each household member can consume a minimum food basket representing 2 100 kilo calories, stood at $816 183.92 for a family of five in February.

The labour movement said that it had taken into account costs like transport, food and rent in coming up with their figure.

Government representatives who were worried about the implications of high wages on the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s efforts to curb inflation suggested that the new minimum wage should be increased by the rate of inflation for January, which was 133.6 percent.

They suggested that the new minimum wage should therefore be increased from $83 000 to $186 880.

EMCOZ did not have a position paper but it suggested a minimum wage of $350 000. It expressed concern at the implications a high minimum wage for domestic workers would have on the industrial sector.

When a member of the Public Service Commission asked what would happen in the case of an employer of a domestic worker who was earning just above the minimum wage proposed by the ZCTU, the labour movement said the rights of domestic workers should not be violated because not everyone could become a domestic employer.

The three negotiating partners, however, finally agreed on a monthly wage of $400 000 after taking into consideration the $700 000 proposed by the ZCTU, the $186 880 by the government and the $350 000 suggested by employers.

They also agreed on allowances of $100 000 for accommodation, $140 000 for transport, $20 000 for lights, $60 000 for fuel and $20 000 for water, making a total of $340 000, which brought the minimum wage plus allowances to $740 000.

The then Minister of labour, Paul Mangwana, was however, quoted a month later as having announced a new minimum wage of $800 000 backdated to March. He did not alter the allowances which still added up to $340 000, making a total of $1.1 million.

The new minimum wage was condemned by industry and commerce, as it was likely to backfire on their employees who were still on a minimum wage of below $1 million.

The government is since reported to have backtracked on the wage but has not announced a new figure.

The advisory board agreed at its meeting in March to meet for further negotiations in June, arguing that the “board needed to meet more often to negotiate better settlements by keeping in line with economic trends”.

 

 

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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