Zimbabwean workers joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Workers’ Day, commonly known as May Day, yesterday.
This day is commemorated globally on the 1st of May of every calendar year to deliberate on matters affecting the welfare of workers.
To motivate the workers, the Head of State and Government, President Mnangagwa, in his address to the nation, paid tribute to the employees in building the national economy and sustaining their families under very difficult circumstances.
It is indeed encouraging to note that as the country joins other nations in celebrating this day, it is Government that has shown consistence in making efforts to address the welfare of its employees through awarding them a significant salary adjustment.
It has also gone further to offer them non-monetary incentives such as housing stands and expansion of their academic frontiers — some developments rarely found in the private sector.
It is disillusioning to note that in some countries and Zimbabwe included, the workers’ agenda is usually hijacked by some opportunities who see them as fodder to nurture their political careers.
But for many workers in some parts of the world, and in Zimbabwe in particular, yesterday’s commemorations were more of observing than celebrating. This is so because in many low and middle income economies, wage inequality remains high and wages are frequently inadequate to cover the needs of workers and their families.
It’s a well-known thread across many countries, but the Zimbabwean worker’s situation has its fair share of peculiarities. Official figures indicate that the country’s Poverty Datum Line (PDL) has just gone above $800, but workers that earn above that new PDL are not in the majority.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency (ZimStat), the total consumption poverty line (TCPL) for an average of five persons stood at $872,94 in March 2019, which basically means that an average household required that much to purchase both food and non-food items for them not to be deemed poor.
The March figure was a 5,53 percent increase compared to the February 2019 figure of $827,19.
So, clearly the PDL is going up, and justifiably so considering the spate of price increases that has hit the local economy over the past few months.
However, what has not followed in tandem are wages, both in the public and private sectors — and these are heart-rending experience workers find themselves in.
And when all this happens, the Government has shown its hand through a civil service wage increase that came into effective on April 1, 2019, a development that a number of companies in the private sector can take a leaf from.
But wage increases can only go so far in chasing unjustified price hikes. Some observers have gone to the extent of arguing that it is not really feasible for most employers in the country to implement PDL-related remuneration due to low productivity.
Instead, they have called for productivity-related remuneration because “the PDL is an external variable outside the labour equation and has no relationship with the wage rate.”
Basic economics say wages should be determined by the level of productivity, and paying wages beyond the productive wage can have the negative effect of driving many companies to bankruptcy.
To whatever extent this may be true or justifiable, the fact on the ground is that workers are not in a good place at the moment.
And a short-term solution to the present wages problem is that Government can consider offering market subsidies to reduce the burden on the consumer as the real problem of low productivity is being addressed. That is why the proposal to inject money in the production of cheap goods for the poor is a welcome development.
Nevertheless, there are things that companies can do, at shop floor, to improve remuneration and the working conditions of their workers.
But this also requires the workers themselves to establish effective workers’ committees, which are critical in the collective bargaining processes.
Collective bargaining is a negotiation mechanism used by employees to engage their employers, and typical issues that emerge as points of divergence or disagreement between workers and employees include: hours, wages, benefits, working conditions, and the rules of the workplace.
Workers’ committees provide means of presentation and discussion with management of employees’ requirements and grievances.