By Robert Tapfumaneyi
THE plight of farm workers in Zimbabwe has worsened since the onset of the land reform programme than it was before, a labour union has said.
According to the Progressive Agriculture and Allied Industries Workers Union of Zimbabwe (PAAIWUZ)’s national organising secretary Phillip Mafundu, former white commercial farmers treated workers better than the new black land owners.
“The call for Zimbabwe is Open for Business does not mean workers are open for exploitation and most of these new farmers are politicians mistreating labourers,” Mafundu told NewZimbabwe.com in an interview.
“And it’s very difficult in these conditions to call for strikes, farm workers will be fired or will be told you being unpatriotic. Or we will be accused of fighting government and seeking to bring down production.”
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has popularised the ‘Zimbabwe is Open for Business’ mantra as he seeks to advertise the country as a safe investment destination.
Mafundu said the abuse had reached unprecedented levels and bordered on slavery.
“Most of the farm labourers are working for more than 12 hours every day and getting $80 (US$8) every month. What do you with that money?” Mafundu asked.
“Their (workers’) rights are not respected at all and farm workers are threatened with dismissal if they complain.”
Established in 2012 to fight for the rights of farm workers, PAAIWUZ claims it has more than 10 000 members in Mashonaland Central, East and West, Manicaland, Masvingo and Bulawayo provinces.
“The new farmers has just taken over what the colonialists were doing, slave labour. They have taken over the abuse that was done by the white commercial farmers.
“In some cases, it’s actually worse than what was happening when the white farmers were there,” he said.
In some instances, the PAAIWU official said some new farm owners have resorted to providing small grocery packets to their workers and then arguing all their wages had been exhausted at the end of the month to avoid paying the labourers.