Working and living conditions of Workers in the Agricultural sector in Zimbabwe - Report By Naome Chakanya - December, 2016

1.  Introduction and background

2. Country context and labour legislation 

3. Working Conditions and impacts

4. Conclusion

5. Recommendations


1.1 Research Methodology

The information provided in this report was obtained through a triangulation research method, meaning it includes both primary and secondary sources of data and interviews with key informants (trade union officials, trade union members). In this regard, the multiple strategies were used namely; desk review, interviews and questionnaires administration.

Desk Review: A review of all the available relevant reports and documents including, the Labour Act, Collective Bargaining Agreement, research publications and national policy documents.

Interviews: To solicit inputs on the of agriculture sector workers, interviews were carried out with the both the union leadership and selected union members from selected provinces of GAPWUZ.

One Focused Group Discussion-FGDs: This was held back to back with an ongoing programme comprising of 30 women farm workers.

Questionnaire Survey: Questionnaires were administered and filled in by union members. A total of 15 questionnaires were filled in by union members and officers in major cities and towns.

1.2 Limitations of the Research

Due to the financial limitations, the research focused on a limited number of questionnaires and one FGD and did not conduct farm visits. Information was sourced from key informants from the Agriculture and Plantations Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ). The research also relied on desk review and research reports the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ).

1.4 Outline of the Paper

The rest of the paper is outlined as follows: Section 2 provides the country context and labour legislation. This is followed by Section 3 on working conditions and impacts. Section 4 provides the conclusion followed by Section 5 with recommendations.

2.1 Situational Analysis of Zimbabwean Economy 

Zimbabwe’s economic situation represents a fragile state characterised by an unsustainably high external debt, policy discontent, massive deindustrialization, informalization (casualisation) of employment (94,5% according to the 2014 Labour Force Survey), poor export performance and capital leakages. The volatile political environment has negatively affected the country, causing a high risk factor for foreign investors. Economic growth declined from 3.8 percent in 2014 to 1.1 percent in 2015 and is estimated to further decline to 0.6 percent by 2016 (2017 National Budget Statement). The country is in a deflationary state (negative inflation estimated to close at -1.5% by end of 2016) reflecting price correction, weak aggregate demand, tight liquidity and the depreciation of the South African Rand against the United Stated Dollar. An unsustainable expenditure mix characterised by employment costs constituting above 70 percent of total expenditures and 81 percent of total revenues continues to undermine capital investments. 

2.2 Agriculture Sector Performance in Zimbabwe

The agriculture sector is the backbone of the Zimbabwe’s economy. More than 70 percent of its population derive its livelihood from this sector. The agriculture sector contributes the highest figure in terms of the country’s wealth and employment. The sector contributes about 15% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, the haphazard Fast Track Land Reform Programme has had negative impact on agricultural performance since 2000. This has been worsened by inadequate financing, late provision of inputs by government and lately climate change which continues to pose uncertainties to the weather patterns. Over the past five years, the national budget allocation to the sector has remained below the 2003 Maputo Declaration by African Heads and Governments on committing at least 10% of national budgetary resources to the sector. The 2016 El-Nino induced drought directly impacted negatively on the sector. The 2017 National Budget noted that a severe drought, for the second consecutive year, had a heavy toll on agriculture production, with some crops such as maize recording merely 511 000 tons, against the average national requirement of 1 800 000 tons, resulting in a huge import bill for the country. Consequently, agriculture recorded a growth decline of -3.7% in 2016. However, in 2017, agriculture is projected to grow by 12% driven by higher output from major crops such as maize, cotton and tobacco, as well as milk production. All these negative developments in agriculture performance also has a negative bearing on the agriculture workers welfare.

In terms of employment, the agriculture’s sector (including forestry and fishing) contributes about 67 percent of total employment (Labour Force and Child Labour Survey, 2014). The sector has backward and forward linkages with other sectors of the economy especially the manufacturing sector. This means that the agriculture sector provides inputs for the manufacturing sector whilst at the same time it also gets its inputs from the manufacturing sector. Thus, if there is poor performance in the agriculture sector, the negative impact will trickle down to the manufacturing sector and consequently other economic sectors. 

2.2 Labour legislative framework

The Labour Act - Like all other private sector workers, agriculture sector workers are covered by the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01). According to the Labour Act, workers in the agriculture sector are entitled to the following rights:

  1. Contract of Employment
  2. Maternity Leave for female workers
  3. Strike action – though with bureaucratic procedures
  4. Special Leave of 12 calendar days per year
  5. Vacation Leave of 30 days per year
  6. Sick Leave of 180 days per year as follows:
  • 90 days sick leave on full pay and the other 90 days on half pay;
  • If sick leave exceeds 180 days, the worker is granted accrued leave on half pay or without, based on employers discretion;
  • Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) encompassing the following:
      • Right to a safe working environment;
      • Right to refuse dangerous work without any protective clothing;
      • Right to adequate protection;
      • Right to first aid and transport provided by the employer;
      • Right to periodic payments from the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), among others.

    The  Labour Amendment Act, 2015 -  The amended came as a bid to protect workers’ rights following the Supreme Court judgment of 17 July 2015 which gave employers the right to dismiss workers upon notice. Agriculture sector workers are also covered by this Amendment. 

    Collective Bargaining Agreement of the Agriculture Sector– provides for the wages and conditions of employment in the agriculture sector borrowing from the main Labour Act 

    2.3 Trade Unions in the Agriculture sector

    The active trade union covering the agriculture sector is called the General and Agriculture Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), an affiliate of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). GAPWUZ was founded in 1982 and was registered by the government as a trade union in 1985. GAPWUZ represents agriculture workers in the following five sub sectors; general agriculture, horticulture, timber, agro-processing and fishery. However, over the years to date, GAPWUZ membership was disturbed by the government’s fast track Land Reform Programme of 2000. The programme resulted in haphazard occupation of white-owned farms and displacement of a majority of farmworkers and emergence of “new” black farmers most of whom are anti-trade unionism. However, GAPWUZ has remained strong representing the rights and interests of the agriculture workers in all the five-subsectors.

    3.1 Wages and minimum wages

    Collective bargaining for the agriculture sector is undertaken through the National Employment Council (NEC) for the Agriculture sector. The NEC comprises of the employers organisations and the trade unions in the agriculture sector. Thus, wages and conditions in the agriculture sector are determined at the NEC level. Table 1 below indicates the wage trends in the agriculture sector versus the Food Poverty Line (FPL) and the Poverty Datum Line (PDL). PDL is the equivalent of a living wage, the minimum amount required per month for a family of five to sustain their livelihood. 

    Table 1: Trends in wages in the Agriculture Sector (US$), FPL and PDL (2011- 2015)







    General Agriculture
























    Tea / Coffee






    Food Poverty Line-FPL






    Poverty Datum Line-PDL






    Source: ZIMSTAT & GAPWUZ, 2016

    Table 1 shows that the timber sub-sector has the highest wages, followed by kapenta, tea and coffee, horticulture and general agriculture, respectively. Furthermore, the Table clearly indicates a saddening picture of the state of wages for the agriculture sector workers in Zimbabwe. For all the years, 2011 to 2016, wages have failed to keep pace with both the FPL and the PDL, thus reducing the workers to the “working poor”. In fact, using Table 2, agriculture sector workers are classified as totally poor. Poverty wages are a sign of decent work deficits.

    Table 2: Classification of households by income

    Household Description

    Status Classification

    Households whose expenditure per capita cannot meet basic food requirements

    Very poor

    Households whose monthly expenditure per capita is equal to the Food Poverty


    Households monthly expenditure per capita is equal or above the TCPL


    Households whose incomes are below the FPL

    Totally poor (the very poor and poor combined).

    Another major challenge facing agriculture sector workers is the non-payment of wages. Some workers have gone for several months ranging from three months upwards without salaries. Employers cite reasons of the challenging macro-economic environment, whilst others, even with the capacity to pay are taking advantage of the economic environment. For some workers, they are given their salaries in piecemeal as the employers indicate liquidity crisis due to the bank limits imposed by the government.

    Furthermore, most of the responses from the questionnaires indicated that they do not get pay slips and it becomes difficult for them to track how their salaries are calculated, or whether the employer is remitting part of salaries to the national social security authority. All this leaves the employer with the prerogative to manipulate the wages. Some workers highlighted that they are placed in the same salary grade despite the undertaking different the duties, a clear sigh of underpayment.

    3.2 Working hours

    The research showed that the prevailing working shifts in most cases are according to the provisions of the CBA of the agriculture sector. However, cases of compulsory overtime work and overburdening of work are rampant in all the subsectors. Some workers also indicated lack of specific working hours as prescribed by the CBA as some of the work is task-based. A worker can only go home after completing the task given by the employer regardless of time required per day to complete the task. For some, they do not have clear contracts of employment and end up being unsure of their hours of work and exposing themselves to overtime work.

    Furthermore, due to rampant casualization of labour in the sector, casual workers are subjected to irregular hours of work, and their working time is unpredictable and can be changed by the employer at any time. In some cases, the key informants noted that such overworking often leads to fatigue, which increases their vulnerabilities to workplace injuries and accidents.

    3.3 Job security

    Job security has been heavily compromised due to rampant labour market flexibility which is associated with casual and contract work. Most employers blame the deteriorating macro-economic environment as a major cause for shift from permanent employment to non-permanent employment. Employment contracts vary from sector to sector and employer to employer thus compromising job security. A research conducted by LEDRIZ in 2014 (a situation currently prevailing) indicated that some of the existing contracts included:

    • 3 months  renewable contracts of employment;
    • Monthly contracts even in cases where the worker has over 20 years under one employer.
    • Six months contracts which can extend from 2 to 30 years;
    • Seasonal contracts; and,
    • 2 weeks contracts.

    Workers also indicated that to secure renewal of contracts they have to either:

    1. Pay bribe; or
    2. Perform sexual favours (common for non-permanent female workers).

    Job security and trade unionism: one of the challenges noted by workers was of victimisation if a worker joins a trade unions. The employer threatens workers with non-renewal of contracts if found joining or undertaking trade union activities. However, GAPWUZ has been able to assist and secure the jobs for those who were affected by employer victimisation.

    3.4 Gender and women’s issues

    From the FGD, women noted the following challenges:

    1. Lack of maternity leave and benefits: Due to the high rate of casualization of labour, most employers take advantage and deny female employees their maternity leave and benefits. In the event of a female worker getting pregnant, the female worker is just given non-paid off days and asked to come back after delivery when she feels ready for work. In addition, due to the task-based system of work in the sector, some women end up forgoing their breastfeeding time breaks in a bid to complete the task. For some female workers, getting pregnant is a sure sign of non-renewal of contract or termination of contract. This clearly shows violation of the Labour Act and exploitation of female workers.
    2. Sexual harassment: Supervisors take advantage of fear of loss of employment by non-permanent female workers and thus request for sexual favours in order to ensure that they recommend renewal of contracts of employment. This is more prevalent for casual and contract workers. Some women fail to report sexual harassment cases due to fear, lack of awareness of their rights and fear of other people’s perceptions;
    3. In the event of pregnancy, some employers refuse to assign the female worker to lighter duties according to the CBA of Agriculture Sector, thereby exposing the pregnant women to miscarriage or other maternal-health challenges;
    4. Safety and Health: lack of proper and adequate sanitary facilities;
    5. Limited representation in decision making structures – the women noted that few women are in decision making structures such as Workers’ Committees, OSHE Committees including the union structures. Hence, their voice as women on women-related workplace challenges is limited.
    6. Culture – Given that farms are in a rural set up where there are more tendencies of patriarchal systems, it is more challenging for a woman to be elected to a decision making body. 

    3.5 Health and safety issues

    Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) remains a challenge in the agriculture sector and yet the sector has higher risks for workplace hazards through chemical use and machinery.

    Protective Clothing: employers are failing to provide adequate personal protective clothing (PPC) and personal protective equipment (PPE) citing lack of resources due to the economic challenges and decline in profits. At times some new employees are forced to wear second hand protective clothing thus, exposing workers to safety and health risks, diseases and illness. At some workplaces, casual workers are not provided with protective clothing and have to use their own clothes as the employers insist that casual workers have no guarantee that they will continue with the job in the event that a better job opportunity arises elsewhere.  Common OSH cases include headaches and nausea due to exposure to strong and hazardous chemicals, and skin rashes and blisters due to hazardous chemicals and pesticides exposure.

    Training on OSHE: Employers are not conducting trainings on OSHE at the workplace. Given the nature of the sector, safety and health training should be not be a once of activity but an ongoing process. The union, GAPWUZ has been undertaking its own training programmes on OSHE for its membership but financial constrains remains a limiting factor. At the time of the research, GAPWUZ was finalising its education and training manual of OSHE and the union plans to intensify its OSHE trainings in future. Another major hindrance to the provision of PPC and PPE are the so called “new farmers” who are not interested in incurring such costs under the pretext that they are still “new” and therefore are not yet established to be able to purchase PPC and PPE.

    OSHE Committees: The lack of adherence by employers to OSHE issues has been caused by the lack of OSHE Committees at the workplace. The majority of the farms do not have OSHE Committees and it therefore becomes challenges to address OSHE issues in the event of a workplace injury or accident.

    Ablution facilities: Some workers complained that the employer does not provide ablution facilities especially for those who work in the field. In this case workers are forced to use the bush to relieve themselves, a serious indication of decent work deficits and a threat to the workers’ health and the environment. 

    3.6 General conditions of employment

    Intimidation and victimisationthere is a higher rate of anti-trade unionism by employers. It common that casual workers in most cases are afraid to defend their rights due to fear of victimisation by the employer or fear of losing their jobs especially for those without any contracts. At times the employer threatens the non-permanent workers of loss of jobs if they get unionised or are seen as associating with trade unions. This intimidation was higher in farms owned by the “new” black farmers, most of whom are linked to the government and feel immune from not practising the law.

    Housing: provision of adequate housing remains a huge challenge for agriculture workers. Casual workers are at a higher risk of not getting housing and housing allowance (in the event of staying outside the farm). A research undertaken by LEDRIZ in 2014 (a situation which still prevails) showed that many of the casual workers are really in need of decent housing, but due to the low wages, most of them ended up building houses from mud and poles, and in many cases, the roof and wall is simply grass. For those who have provision of houses, most of the houses are dilapidated and require repair and proper maintenance. Questionnaires revealed that employers indicated that the deteriorating economy is the huge barrier to provision of better housing and maintenance. 

    3.7 Impacts on Workers and their families

    Medical coverage: The majority of farm workers are not members of a medical aid society. In cases where a worker falls ill or injured at work, they are sometimes referred to the farm health worker or farm clinic, but this only covers the worker only and not family members. The rest of the family members are not covered by such medical assistance, meaning that in case a family member needs medical attention, the farm worker has to use his or her own resources. Given the paltry wages that they earn, most workers cannot afford to take family members to government clinics or hospitals and thus resort to traditional medicines which can further expose them to more health complications. This is more prevalent for non-permanent workers.

    Non- payment of wages – this is limiting the attainment and enjoyment of basic socio-economic rights for farm workers. Non-payment of wages translates to a wide range of insecurities such as food, health, education, and housing insecurities, among others. These basic socio-economic rights are critical for better family welfare and livelihood. Worryingly, the brunt of the burden falls on women, given their triple burden of wage-employment, care work, and housework. Responses from the FGD indicated that some households end up skipping some meals due to lack of income to buy food, whilst other families expose their children to child labour in the farms in a bid to spread income sources. Responses also indicated that children, especially the girl children have becomes the worst affected as parents fail to secure funds for school fees due to non-payment their wages or due the poverty wages in general.

    Whilst the agriculture sector in the mainstay of Zimbabwe’s economy, the agricultural workers find themselves at the lowest echelons of conditions of work and are the most vulnerable. Since the time of the haphazard Land Reform Programme of 2000, agriculture sector workers were hard hit in terms of loss of employment, displacement, workers’ rights violation, unfair treatment by the “new” black farmers who most of them were anti-trade unionism.

    Over the years, the rate of permanent workers has declined drastically as more employers employ non-permanent workers citing the economic decline affecting their incomes and the poor performance of the agriculture sector in general. Casualisation of work has been the major catalyst entrenching poverty among agricultural workers. Whilst the Labour Act is clear on the rights of the workers, the majority of the employers choose to ignore the law and subject workers to "modern slavery” characterized by poverty wages, abuse (physical and verbal), lack of social security and victimization. Their families are left destitute in the event that the worker especially casual worker fall ill, dies or is left disabled after a work-related injury, as they are not covered by any medical aid scheme. Whilst GAPWUZ still commands respect from most farmers and continues to fight for the right of the farm workers, they are also limited financially. Since workers in this sector are also migratory, some of the gains made (for instance, through capacity development of shop stewards and activists) can easily be eroded. This therefore calls for GAPWUZ to continue mobilizing resources to address challenges facing this sector. 

    Following recommendations are provided for GAPWUZ:

    1. Intensification of education and training on the decent work agenda (employment creation, workers’ rights, social protection and social dialogue);
    2. Establishment of OSHE Committees at the farms including capacity development of the OSHE Officers;
    3. Development of capacity programmes which are well resources for women to participate in their decision making structures and positions;
    4. Development of popular education material and in local languages of workers’ rights and the Labour Act;
    5. Strengthening workers committees through education on their roles and responsibilities;
    6. Strengthening shop stewards capacities at farm level in monitoring and inspection of rights to ensure decent work;
    7. Continuous capacity development of Workers’ Committee members to advocate for better working conditions at the farm level;
    8. Review of CBAs to strengthen areas social security schemes at the workplace (medical and funeral assistance, decent housing);
    9. Adapt new organising strategies that have specific focus on casual workers and findings alternative ways of retaining membership especially in the lay-off periods / seasons;
    10. Intensification of farm visits in order to assess and address violations of workers’ rights at farms;
    11. Undertaking continuous evidence-based research on the developments and changes in the sector and how they are affecting workers and solutions thereof; and,
    12. Undertaking exchange programmes to learn good practices from other countries.

    Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ), The Labour Act (Chapter 28:01)

    Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ), (2016), The 2017 National Budget Statement

    ZIMSTAT, (2014), Labour Force and Child Labour Survey

    LEDRIZ (unpublished), The Extent of Casualisation of Labour in the Agriculture Sector of Zimbabwe