ZIMBABWEAN workers in most spheres of the economy might be earning far less than their South African counterparts, but going on strike is a luxury they cannot afford.
While South African miners demanded and some were awarded wages above R11 000, their Zimbabwean counterparts are earning less than R2 000.
I am sure the wages of South African truckers are currently way above those of their Zimbabwean counterparts. Mind you, South African miners are earning wages above the average $250 that Zimbabwean civil servants are earning.
Surprisingly, Zimbabweans rarely go on strike, and in the cases where they have done so employers simply ignore them until they come back to work.
Civil servants demonstrated in the streets of Harare in July and handed over a petition at parliament in which they called on government to urgently address their grievances for a salary increase. However, up to now nothing has materialised.
They last had a salary hike in July 2011 and government had promised to award another increase in January this year, which never happened.
Although government workers have gone on strike here and there, the results have been the same – no increment. The situation is even more telling for workers in private companies who rarely go on strike.
Are Zimbabwean workers satisfied with their remuneration?
Brett Chulu, a Zimbabwean-based strategic human resources consultant, says it will be naïve to suggest that employees in Zimbabwe are satisfied with their pay.
“Given our economic hardships you would think strikes should be highly frequent in Zimbabwe, but two key differences account for the low prevalence of strikes in Zimbabwe, despite poor remuneration.
“First, employees in Zimbabwe are soberly looking at the economic realities facing the country such as power shortages, high cost of utilities and low capacity utilisation, for instance.
"The space for companies to offer substantial increments without inducing bankruptcy is very slim.”
Chulu says some employees are going for as long as three months without getting paid, because they know going on a strike to press for high wage demands is really a pointless exercise.
Driven to the wall, companies will simply take the retrenchment route, which under current economic circumstances will in all likelihood be accepted by the Retrenchment Board.
“Few employees would be so naïve as to put their head on the block. In the services industry, such as banking, technology can easily replace humans.
"It is far easier to deal with ‘machines on strike’ than with humans on strike,” says Chulu.
Chulu believes Zimbabwean employees in general have become accomplished survivalists, owing to a decade of severe socioeconomic hardship.
“They are finding and perfecting ways of supplementing their meagre wages. Some of the ways are moonlighting (getting part-time jobs) and microbusiness ventures, for instance.
“It is not uncommon to find for some employees doing their private work during working hours. Some are supplementing their meagre incomes with financial assistance from relatives and friends in the Diaspora,” he says.
Chulu reckons there are cases where some employees resort to unethical practices, such as soliciting bribes from customers and clients.
“In short, employees would rather spend their time and energy strategising on how to supplement their meagre salaries than toyi-toying.”
In principle, the Zimbabwe Labour Act (Chapter 28:01) makes provision for collective job action. You strike when you think there is a possibility of squeezing more juice from the employer.
But when the orange is clearly over-squeezed, what’s the point of squeezing further?
These are the realities confronting the Zimbabwean employee. If you lose a job, chances of getting another are very slim.
So workers would rather get something from their current job and supplement the two pennies with other income sources.
Memory Nguwi, a registered psychologist and managing consultant with an industrial psychology consultant in Zimbabwe, agrees.
Nguwi says the reason why there are no strikes in the country is because Zimbabweans have gone through a decade of prolonged economic suffering, and they know what being unemployed means.
“If they lose their job, there is no hope of getting another one locally because the economy is not creating jobs. Instead, the economy is losing jobs.
“I think it’s almost a case of half a loaf is better than nothing,” says Chulu.
“Currently even in cases where employees have gone for months without pay they are not striking, and this shows the extent of the economic challenges we are facing. Strikes happen where people normally think they have plan B should they lose a job.”
However, even when they strike people always underestimate employers' response and in most cases, employees end up on the losing end because they normally do not get the right advice.
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