Losing the battle

28 09 2007

One of the absurdities of employing staff in Zimbabwe is the “system” of allowances. Those earning a wage (as opposed to a salary) are entitled to a host of allowances for lighting, fuel, water, accommodation and transport. This is one of the few countries I know of that does this. I have worked in a number of countries in jobs where I definitely earned a wage and it was a case of; here is your pay, do what you like with it. It was my choice where I wanted to live and how much I wanted to pay for transport etc. Here the allowances are set by often less than amicable agreement between representatives of the employers’ union, the workers’ union(s) and the NEC. The National Employment Council was set up by the government in one of its very few moments of clear thinking to arbitrate between the various unions and facilitate agreement on minimum wages and other issues. In reality it’s just issues pertaining to money.

The wages for agriculture and horticulture (which for some reason is believed to be more lucrative and therefore must pay more) have been increased massively to cope with rampant inflation. Allowances, which were truly pitiful, have also increased but the various unions agreed that the employer must pay the actual cost of transport. This is fine where staff take a bus to work but not very helpful where there is no transport or they choose not to use it. You might think that it would be easy to see what the actual cost is of a bus. Think about that for a bit. What third world bus conductor issues any form of ticket or receipt? My labour force for the most part live about 4km away and have always walked even when there was a semblance of a transport service; transport allowance went straight to the pocket as one would expect!

Today I went with a senior foreman and the workers’ committee to the local NEC offices to try and break the deadlock on what transport allowance I would offer. My initial offer was nil; what is the incurred cost of walking? New shoes? I supply those anyway. No, I did not expect to get away with that but one must always start out as low as possible. Progress was slow until the CE called in and suggested that we go with a proportional system, i.e. find out what a bus elsewhere cost and pay a proportion for the distance walked (this would be fairer on those who actually did some distance compared with those who live very close by). I immediately saw  that with current inflation we would have monthly rows over what the bus was now charging (inflation is about 10000% remember?). So when a fixed value was suggested for all those not living on the premises, increasing by the same percentage as the wage each month, I reluctantly gave in and agreed to it. It will increase by about 35% over the next 4 months. OK, call me heartless, but I am tired of the tail wagging the dog and being told what bonuses they will work for (but that’s another chapter). Anyway, I am not supposed to be increasing my prices (I have anyway) so how am I supposed to cover these increases? This whole system worked much better when the allowances were so low as to be meaningless and I just had to keep increase the wage to keep people working for me.

In the meantime the NEC is going to look for a better definition of incurred actual cost of transport but in an aside the official who was mediating said it was not going to happen as the current situation benefited the employees’ union. So I guess I won that war. Of course next month the labourers will come to me and complain that their wages are insufficient so we will have to up them (which is also illegal) just to keep going. So I could be prosecuted for increasing wages AND prices!

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One response

4 10 2007
Big Blister

It seems the govt may have just the solution for you…. go to link below

http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/africa/09/28/zimbabwe.business.ap/index.html

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