On May 1, the country joined the rest of the world in commemorating workers’ day which is dedicated to observing the achievements and rights of workers.
However, in an exposé by Great Dyke News 24, many local companies are exploiting college graduates and students on attachment who are used to fill in full-time jobs but are not paid or offered a pittance.
The concerns are particularly acute because of the huge numbers of graduates leaving university without a job.
Great Dyke News 24 interviewed a number of graduates from different colleges who expressed their grievances saying they are being exploited by a number of companies.
While recent graduates and undergraduates usually boost their resumes and gain valuable ‘on-job’ experience through internships, there are however increasing cases of companies calling for interns only to fill them into full-time positions with meagre remuneration and no training at all.
“I graduated last year with a certificate in Baking and Catering. I started looking for a job in Harare and that’s when l was referred to a catering company called Cloud 9 Catering services based in Waterfalls by one of my former lecturers.
“l went there with two of my former classmates and they offered us a job in January this year. They told us that they were going to train us for two weeks so that we familiarize ourselves with their company’s services.
“Because of desperation, and lack of experience, we could not ask for a written agreement but it was a word of mouth agreement. The owner of the company (Mrs. Tarisai Masere) was so friendly and charming, during the first days she could pick us up in town to go to work in Newlands selling us her dreams and for us, we could see heaven on earth since it was our first job, not knowing that it was going to end in tears.
“Two weeks later, she started changing her routes and she could tell us to meet at work without providing us with transport money. We started using our own monies up until month-end when we were expecting our paycheques. Because of fear, no one could ask her about our salaries and she didn’t mention anything about it.
“February came without any word about our salaries and we were dying from inside especially me because l had used all my money and l couldn’t afford to pay for two kombi rides from where l stay to work. However, l could sacrifice and lie to my guardians so that they could give me some money for transport promising to pay them in due course.
“Every day we could work from morning to evening without eating anything considering the fact that we were working for a catering company. Sometimes the owner could call us to work during the weekends and we were very loyal to her and her husband since it’s a family business.
“l was so broke and l couldn’t ask for some money from my relatives given the fact that l was going to work. l would cry every night without telling anyone about my pain. Luckily, my brother noticed my misery one day and he sat down with me and asked me what was eating me. I had no option but to tell him the honest truth, that was in February. He gave me the courage to go and ask my boss about my allowances which l did.
“When l asked her she said she was going through some cash problems and on that day she sent us Zwl 1000 in our phones and she said that was for transport. The money wasn’t enough but we were very happy that we were getting at least something.
“After that scenario, she started changing her attitude and she could frustrate us every day and she gave us tight schedules to follow every day threatening to fire us if we didn’t follow them. However, we could see that she was making a lot of money because she had contracts with a number of big corporate companies and she was upgrading her company including her cars, just imagine!
“In April,l got the guts to express my feelings and l confronted her, and she gave us twenty United States dollars each and promised to pay us the balance later.
“When we asked her how much was the balance, she told us, all in all, she was going to pay us $70 each for that month and told us that she couldn’t pay us for the past three months telling us we were on attachment and that surprised us. I didn’t have an option but to keep that twenty dollars for my sweat… (crying), all l can say is may God bless her,” said Shantel Zhou (not her real name).
Great Dyke News 24 established that the company has been operating like that for some time at their two branches in Harare and Karoi and they have been reported to the police some time ago but nothing has happened.
Great Dyke News 24 understands, that the company doesn’t have permanent employees hence it uses cheap labour every now and then to reduce its costs in the name of internships.
Contacted by Great Dyke News 24, the company owner Tarisai Masere said her company was having problems with her contractors hence that they were not paying recent graduates on time.
“We are having challenges with our payments but we will pay them, we agreed that during the first month they were on training (January) hence we will be paying them $70 for each month from February but for now l don’t have some money,” she said.
Great Dyke News 24 also understands that the company has been contracted by a number of big companies but it is now failing to meet market demand.
“We contracted the company for catering services for our organisation, however, we were wondering why the company was delivering substandard food since last month and we are happy to know that they are using unmotivated employees and as a company we are against that, we are going to terminate the contract with immediate effect since they are going against labour laws,” said one of the companies that have contracted Cloud 9 Catering services.
Sources told the Great Dyke News 24 team that almost all Cloud 9 contracts with corporates have been terminated with immediate effect.
“Almost all of her contracts were terminated due to poor service delivery, she is now thinking of starting a new business for liquor and butchery and we are hoping that she will not continue doing the same thing,” said the close source.
Great Dyke News 24 also spoke to another graduate who was also exploited by a herbs company called Herbal Centre after finishing her degree from the University of Zimbabwe.
She revealed that graduates get employed for less than the minimum wage, working six to seven days a week for more than 8 hours a day, without sick leave or vacation time.
“When l finished my degree in journalism at the University of Zimbabwe last year, l got a job at one of the companies that deals with herbs, and l was recruited in the marketing department and l was so happy since it was my first job.
“There was no written contract but it was just a word of mouth but because of the excitement l couldn’t push the boss to give me a contract.
“I was supposed to market their products on radio stations and l was ok with it since l had a passion for radio. We agreed that they will be paying us on a weekly basis. The challenge came after my first week, the boss started complaining about sales and he promised to pay the following week.
“During the second week I teamed up with three other graduates in a similar position and we then asked the boss when we would get our money. He started threatening us and demanding that we leave his company but we couldn’t go because he owed us our money.
“The third-week l was told not to go for interviews and l was told to work at the reception and we were selling herbs. This week he paid us some little money and for the whole month, he only paid us for one week.
“Because of desperation we had no option, we had to hustle for lunch and other expenses up until l had the guts to complain again and he insulted me up until l had to quit without being paid, and up to now, he didn’t give me my money. These guys are taking advantage of graduates and students and using them without any contracts,” said Fadzai Munodawafa, one of the exploited students.
The two cases reported here are a tip of the iceberg as this is happening across all sectors where companies are taking advantage of the high rate of unemployment in the country to employ cheap labour. Great Dyke News 24 spoke to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions past president Peter Mutasa who said the issue of exploitation of graduates and interns must be dealt with.
“We are greatly concerned about the working conditions that students on attachment are exposed to. In many cases, they are working for many hours more than the stipulated working hours and they are also working in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Female workers are also exposed to sexual harassment and these are forms of mistreatment.
“Many companies that are taking advantage of students on attachment are doing it not to train the students but they are taking advantage of using cheap labour and they are not earning anything including money for transport so there is a lot of abuse within this sector.
“We think all students on attachment must be under a code of agreement that should be a product of the tripartite negotiation forum with employers’ input, government’s input, and labour’s input and we need this code of conduct which spells out the minimum conditions for these students on attachment,” he said.
Some are now calling for the review of the policy where interns and graduates go unpaid as they are facing economic challenges such as transport fares and lunch money.