THE Progressive Agriculture and Allied Industries Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Paawuz) has accused white commercial farmers of using the police and army to abuse farm workers.
BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
In a series of letters to the police and army, Paawuz general secretary Raymond Sixpence said white commercial farmers were abusing workers and whenever they were taken to task by the workers’ union, they would rope in the police and army.
In a June 22 2018 letter to the police commissioner-general Godwin Matanga, Sixpence complained about the alleged abuse of farm workers.
“We write to you to express our displeasure over the conduct of Headlands police, specifically the officer-in-charge, Menson Karidza.
“We are suspecting that he is working in cahoots with Landos farm security. Landos farm is owned by Greame Chadwick,” reads the letter in part.
“The workers are being beaten and intimidated. The police don’t attend to the reports. We are calling for an investigation in the cases involving the farm security and Headlands police.”
Sixpence told The Standard that the police recently arrested two trade union officials for “conduct likely to breach peace unreasonably without considering the other side of the story”.
The two were Philip Mafundu and Leyson Sixpence, who are the workers’ union’s national organising secretary and public relations officer, respectively.
They were arrested while attending to labour cases at a farm run by tobacco farmer Chadwick in Headlands, he said.
They appeared in court on June 23, 2018 and were released on bail.
In December last year, the union also wrote a letter to Matanga complaining about white farmers who were allegedly using the police to intimidate workers. It also wrote another letter to Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Valerio Philip Sibanda alleging abuse of military intelligence operatives by white farmers.
“Our biggest challenge is that white commercial farmers abuse workers and now use police officers to intimidate the workers,” Sixpence wrote in December.
The practice, he said, was rampant in Mashonaland East province mainly at Beatrice, Marondera and Macheke.
On January 12 this year, Sibanda responded to Sixpence’s letter, saying investigations would be carried out into the alleged involvement of soldiers in the abuse of farm workers.
“I write to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated the 21 of December 2017.
“The allegations you raised have been taken note of and will be investigated.
“However, I urge you to provide more information on the matter to include the names, locations and dates of the alleged culprits involved and where and when the meetings took place respectively.”
Sixpence said Chadwick was abusing workers through beatings, forced labour, child labour, underpaying them, not paying allowances and long working hours, among others.
“This should stop forthwith. Tobacco farmers are concerned about making money at the expense of workers. We implore government to look into this issue and rectify it,” he said.
Chadwick could not be reached for comment.
The least earning farm worker in Zimbabwe is getting $75 per month and the highest earning $150. In South Africa, the lowest paid farm workers earn about $230 per month.
Sixpence said Chadwick was deducting union dues for the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe without signed stop orders from the employees.
However, Gapwuz deputy general secretary Austin Muswere dismissed Paawuz as a bogus union, saying it was registered clandestinely.
“Trade unionism is voluntary and we don’t force anyone to join us,” he said.
“We talk to those who haven’t joined us to do so and they sign forms authorising their employers to deduct monies on behalf of the union and then remit the dues into the union’s account, not a personal account like what Sixpence is doing.”
Commercial Farmers’ Union president Ben Purcell Gilpin accused Sixpence of causing serious havoc in the agriculture sector.
“Certainly the gentleman has a history of causing disruptions on commercial farms generally because he creates great expectations amongst workers and as consequence of that, he also seems to have connections politically, which he uses to threaten farmers with if they don’t comply with his demands,” he said.
“The gentleman has caused havoc around the place.
“We recommend any of our farmers that are faced with him to follow the law, the legal process and work with the NEC [national employment council] in conciliating matters as they arrive on properties rather than take matters into their hands.”