Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe (THZ) was recently forced to raise its workers’ salaries after the workers set unripe sugarcane on fire after salary negotiations reached a deadlock.
According to The NewsHawks, plantations in Area 1 and 2 with various sections including 2, 9 and 13 saw several unripe sugarcane fields being torched between 3 and 4 May.
The company had to harvest the burnt unripe sugarcane which was eight-month-old. Under normal circumstances, sugarcane is harvested after 12 months.
Just two days after the fire, THZ called a meeting with three unions representing the workers and it raised the salaries of all workers by 73.8%. The increase was backdated to 1 April this year.
The lowest-paid worker in grade A1 is now getting a monthly salary of ZW$54 000 and the highest-paid worker in grade B5 is now getting ZW$126 997.69.
THZ signed an agreement signed with the Zimbabwe Sugar Milling Industry Employers’ Association, Zimbabwe Sugar Milling Industry Workers’ Union (ZISMIWU), Sugar Production and Milling Industry Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (SPAMWUZ), Sugar Milling and Allied Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe and the National Employment Council for the Zimbabwe sugar milling industry on 6 May 2022.
SPAMWUZ secretary-general Adonia Mutero confirmed the agreement to The NewsHawks. He said:
I can confirm that the employer agreed to increase our wages by 73.8%, which is way below what we were expecting.
Our situation was worsened by the removal of the foreign currency component from our salaries.
We were receiving part of our salaries in foreign currency for two or three years but that was removed late last year and the employer is saying it removed it after a directive from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
We are aware that some of the sugarcane plantations in Triangle were torched, but as unions, we cannot tell the identities of the assailants, but truly speaking workers were angry.
We will continue lobbying for better pay which will allow us to live a decent life since the current salaries will see most of the workers living in poverty.
The NewsHawks reported a senior THZ employee as saying the company was offering ZW$37 000 for the lowest grade but later settled for ZW$54 000 after the unexpected fires. Said the official:
The company acted quickly after the fires but they wanted to play down the issue as if the fire was targeting ripe fields which were ready for harvesting.
I can tell you that fire tenders were mobilised in a bid to put out the fire, but surprisingly they called unions for the continuation of the negotiations where they offered more than what they were offering. This increment is nothing because we are now only getting the local currency.
At its peak, Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe had 19 000 employees, making it the country’s single biggest employer outside the government.