Zimbabwe: Bleak Christmas for Workers

A bleak festive season awaits several hundreds of households in the country after thousands of workers were thrown out of employment mainly due to company closures.

Several companies also failed to pay their workers the 13th cheque citing the current harsh economic environment.

Although civil servants got bonuses, the money failed to make a significant difference to their lives as most of them earn "peanuts" in comparison to their increased needs during the festive season.

On average, civil servants earn US$400 a month. But the worst nightmare are retrenchments.

Statistics show that close to 100 firms closed shop since last year, throwing hundreds of workers into the streets. The retrenchments are further worsened by the rising unemployment rate, which tops 80% nationally.

"How do I tell my kids that I have no money for Christmas?" said Ernest Nyoni, who used to work for a clothing firm that closed in Bulawayo recently. "I am stranded. To think of Christmas would worsen my already high blood pressure."

The economic hardships have resulted in several companies failing to give their employees bonuses while others owe their workers' salaries dating back to several months.

For example, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, National Railways of Zimbabwe and New Zim Steel in Redcliff have failed to pay their workers full pay for the past few months.

At least 3 000 workers at New Zim Steel said they have not been paid since May this year and their children have been thrown out of school.

"We saw in the newspapers that we would be paid before Christmas, but up to now they have not paid us," said one worker who requested anonymity.

"We are in trouble because apart from having a bleak Christmas.our children will not go back to school because we have not been paying fees. They (children) did not get end-of-year results because we have arrears."

Jacob Nyatanga, who works for a security company in Bulawayo, said he has not been getting full pay for the past three months.

"There is no Christmas for some of us. It is just a wish. How I wish I was a civil servant. I could be having my full pay every month and bonus now," he said.

"We are being given US$50 per month and this has been going on for the past three months. Until today I have not been paid and there is no communication as to when we will be paid."

Nyatanga said he earns US$150 per month.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) boss Japhet Moyo said most workers were going for Christmas "empty-handed", as several companies failed to pay salaries and bonuses.

He said 2012 was a very difficult year for workers, as 5 000 were formally retrenched up from about 4 000 the previous year.

"The number could be much more because this is for those formally retrenched, but we know several companies just closed shop," said Moyo. "It has not been a good year for workers and their Christmas is also a nightmare."

ZCTU southern region spokesperson Percy Mcijo said the situation was worse in Bulawayo, which recorded the highest number of company closures.

He said it would not be surprising to hear that some workers succumbed to stress. "The situation is just terrible and it will come as no surprise if some residents die of stress. It's a gloomy Christmas. It is very sad indeed. For many in Bulawayo, Christmas is just a pipedream and nothing else," he said.

"It is just an unnecessary luxury which many people cannot afford."

Mcijo said some families were now even breaking up over company closures "as some breadwinners are now failing to provide".

"Families are breaking up because of this. The outlook is very bleak because there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for the struggling companies," said Mcijo.

"Already, we have reports that a number of firms are saying they will not re-open in January."

Association for Business in Zimbabwe chief executive officer, Lucky Mlilo, recently said the increase in the number of firms applying for voluntary liquidation in Bulawayo signalled tough times ahead.

He said the situation could deteriorate, triggered by intimidation and violence that characterised the country's general elections. Elections are expected to be held next year.

The government has announced several initiatives to revive industries in Bulawayo. The Distressed Industries and Marginalised Areas Fund (Dimaf) is one such initiative that was launched in October 2011.

To date, CABS -- which has been tasked to disburse the US$40 million under Dimaf -- has said less than a quarter of that money has been disbursed.

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