By Daniel Chigundu
LABOUR and Social Welfare Minister Petronella Kagonye has denied claims from Bulawayo South legislator Eddie Cross that she is using forced labour on her farm and that she has not been paying her various workers.
Speaking in the National Assembly during debate on which Minister Kagonye was seeking Parliament approval for the ratification of the International Labour Organisation Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention P029 of 2014, Honourable Cross said he had heard that that the minister was abusing here workers.
“Madam Speaker, I have a particular concern with this particular piece of legislation which is being brought before us and it concerns the Hon. Minister herself. I have heard allegations that the Hon. Minister in fact, is not behaving as an employer should on her farm and I would like to hear her deny those allegations.
“My understanding is that she has labourers on her farm and she has been coercing them to work for her and has not been remunerating them properly. I would like to hear her denial,” he said.
However, in her response Minister Kagonye said her workers are happy to be working for her and are also well looked after.
“… For the benefit of my Hon. Member here, farm workers at my farm are the best. They actually enjoy being there and they work at my farm by choice because I treat them deservingly.
“I make sure that I provide decent work for them, accommodation, food and their salaries on time. So, whatever you have heard is not true. I just thought I should set the record straight,” she said.
Forced labour is defined as, “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered themselves voluntarily”.
The indicators of forced labour are abuse of vulnerability, deception, restriction of movement, isolation, physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, retention of identity documents, withholding of wages, debt bondage, abusive working and living conditions and excessive overtime.
Most farm workers in Zimbabwe are living unpleasant conditions as they are made to work for accommodation and most of them have gone for many months and even years without being paid salaries.
However, the situation is not at farms alone, even some corporates have gone for over six months without giving their workers’ salaries hiding behind the current economic situation in the country.
Meanwhile, Parliament has approved the ratification of the ILO Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention P029 which seeks to eradicate forced labour in all its forms.
The Protocol was ratified by Cabinet last year in June and was waiting for Parliament approval as required by Section 327 (2) (a) of the Constitution.
Section 327(2)(a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides that any Convention, Treaty or Agreement acceded to, concluded or executed by or under the authority of the President with one or more foreign States or Governments or International Organizations shall be subject to approval by Parliament.
Forced labour contributes to the perpetuation of poverty and stands in the way of the achievement of decent work for all. Protocol No. 29 of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention recognises that the context and forms of forced or compulsory labour have changed and now takes on board trafficking in persons for the purposes of forced or compulsory labour.
In most cases, it involves sexual exploitation which has become the subject of growing international concern and requires urgent action for its effective elimination.
There is an increased number of workers who are in forced or compulsory labour in the private economy, and certain sectors of the economy are particularly vulnerable. Certain groups of workers have a higher risk of becoming victims of forced or compulsory labour, especially migrants.
While anyone can become a victim of forced labour, however, people who lack knowledge of the local language or laws have few livelihood options. These belong to a minority religious or ethnic groups, have a disability or have other characteristics that set them apart from the majority population and are especially vulnerable to abuse and more often found in forced labour.
In Zimbabwe, forced labour saw these indicators in situations where females were trafficked to places such as Kuwait for various unspecified violations against their person.