Government has warned companies that hire middlemen and other companies to avoid engaging workers directly and paying gratuities, that the practice is illegal. The practice is commonly known as labour broking, sub-contracting or casualising labour.
Workers that have been mostly affected by the practice are in the food industry and beverage manufacturing.
The director of labour administration in the Ministry of Labour and Social Services, Mr Paul Dzviti, said that labour broking was il-legal according to the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01).
"Labour broking is mostly prevalent in South Africa and Namibia, but here it's illegal and perpetrators face prosecution," he said.
Investigations by Herald Business revealed that more than 10 companies in Harare had engaged brokers who now "own" the workers.
A director of Weberly Investments, Mr Osnath Dube, confirmed that they had been engaged by one of the leading firms as brokers.
"Workers should not complain about our agreement as they are paid well and in time. The minimum wage here is US$317, and they should be grateful," said Mr Dube.
However, he said that they did not pay the workers bonuses or other incentives, as their agreement with the company did not take this into account. Mr Dzviti said that workers in a particular industry should be paid directly by the company that they work for.
He said that labour broking and sub-contracting had recently been contentious issues in Namibia as it was being abused and the dispute spilled into that country's Supreme Court.
Mr Dzviti's declaration follows a landmark arbitration award this year in favour of Stanley Takaendesa versus Schweppes (Pvt) Ltd ordering his reinstatement.
Arbitrator Mr Rodgers Matsikidze ruled that the engagement of Lorimark as a broker by Schweppes did not nullify Takaendesa's contract of employment.
Said Mr Matsikidze: "What is clear from the two contracts is that on the switch from Schweppes to Lorimark, there was no break. The employee only changed the employer but his duties remained the same."
Mr Matsikidze said that nothing changed except that Schweppes was now paying Lorimark to act as an employer on its behalf.
"What is clear is that Lorimark is not the employer, but Schweppes. To allow employers to use middlemen in order to avoid statutory regulations will be to put to ransom the workforce," said Mr Matsikidze.
Mr Reason Masomera of the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions expressed concern that the labour brokers offered commercial services yet the workers belonged to the manufacturing sector.
"The payment of gazetted wages will eventually become a problem. Even if the workers win an arbitration award, it cannot be enforced as the broker has no assets that can be attached," said Mr Masomera.
United Food and Allied Workers' Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Mr Alfred Mutero said that they had tried to raise the issue with the NEC to no avail.
"Out of the more than 100 000 workers in the food industry, only 18 000 are under direct employment and the NEC, while the rest's wages and working conditions are haphazard," said Mr Mutero.
Mr Mutero said their complaints to the NEC were fruitless and they suspected that they were dining with the employers.
He said that some truant companies were in the habit of sub-contracting certain departments to the labour brokers.