Workers now spend precious time in bank queues and searching for food

HARARE – RESPONDING to critics irked by his penchant for extravagance by flying his children in a private jet to school in France, former Zairean strongman Mobutu Sese Seko had this to say: “Those who peddle such criticism do not attach much value to time. They are ignorant of time husbandry and how much saving flying makes.”

While Mobutu had little regard for his people and a warped appreciation of economics, at least he could value time albeit in his small world.

In Zimbabwe, time has lost meaning.

Analysts this week said the Zimbabwean authorities are guilty of doing little to save the long productive hours being spent daily in queues as workers battle to access cash and other basics.

Companies, fighting bankruptcy spawned by the worsening economic crisis now in its ninth year, are losing a lot of revenue as employees are now spending long hours in bank queues.

While a number of companies have resorted to providing staff with food hampers and transport allowances paid for in cash, their efforts still fall far short of what the employees require to face up to the daily challenges.

Last month the Reserve Bank of Zimba-bwe increased daily cash withdrawal limits from $1,000 to $10,000 and $20,000 for companies and individuals respectively, following an outcry from members of the public.

The daily cash withdrawal limit for individuals meant that employees have to queue on a daily basis to make ends meet.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions head Lovemore Matombo was quoted telling Voice of America that the situation in industry was dire, with the manufacturing industry having virtually collapsed.

"Some people have suggested that they can only work for eight hours for the whole week, suggesting that four-fifths of production is lost per week," he said.

Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimba-bwe Economics Society (ZES), said since labour was one of the key factors of production, the absence of employees at work places during normal working hours was weighing down companies.

"In terms of potential output that these idle labour hours could have produced, it is not surprising that the economy might be losing approximately 40 to 60 percent of its normal Gross Domestic Product," said Kadenge.

The ZES president said controls such as the limit on cash withdrawals and price controls effected on industry last year can only lead to inefficient usage of economic resources such as labour.

"Apart from that workers are less motivated all the time because of failure to withdraw their money from the banks. At the end of the day they are compelled to buy (basic products from the supermarkets) using ex-pensive methods of payment such as debit cards or other electronic transfer methods where punitive pricing systems are a constant thorn in their flesh," said Kadenge.

Investigations have established that most companies are now resorting to a shorter working week of say two to three days because of the reduced capacity utilisation.
Others have introduced a rotational system where employees are given a few days to attend to personal problems outside the week-ends when most businesses are closed.
"From every direction, cash shortages have affected production. If you can’t get cash you can’t spend cash," said economic consultant John Robertson.

"However, many companies have come to terms with reality and they now allow their employees to do their personal business then come to work at least two to three days a week," he said.

Bulawayo-based chartered accountant Eric Bloch said ageing plant and equipment, high costs of production and low staff morale have combined to make the operating environment difficult.

Bloch said there was despondency among workers caused by the hyperinflationary environment and diminishing job security as companies downsize while others close their plants altogether.

James Chirandu, a production manager at a Harare clothing company, could not believe his eyes when only two employees out of a staff complement of 25 reported for work one Monday morning.

The company had secured a massive export order that needed to go through the production line immediately but had to be delayed due to the shortage of labour.
"I phoned all the supervisors enquiring about their whereabouts. The first one said he was in a meandering queue at the bank and was only likely to get to work around 3pm as his bank had not received cash from the Reserve Bank.

"The second supervisor was trudging to work on foot because he had used up the transport allowance we gave him the previous day on food for his family.
"The third supervisor could not make it to work that day because transport fares had gone up, while the wife of the fourth supervisor who responded to my call indicated her husband had gone to South Africa the previous night to buy some groceries," said Chirandu.

This example starkly illustrates the depressing state most Zimbabwean companies have to contend with.

The Zimbabwe Coali-tion on Debt and Deve-lopment (ZIMCODD) said the signing of a power-sharing agreement between ZANU-PF and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change last month sets the political framework for economic recovery.
The decline of the economy has been characterised by a corresponding collapse in social service delivery, with vulnerable groups such as workers, people living with HIV/AIDS, women and children being hardest hit.

"The problems of access to clean water, skills flight in local medical and health institutions, poor infrastructure development and maintenance, shortages of equipment for delivering amenities and other related problems, vividly illustrate the current poor state of social services.

"The genesis of this social decline can be located in the implementation of neo-liberal policies linked to ESAP (the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme), which left a legacy of increasing poverty, high unemployment, and a decline in health and educational standards, among other things," said ZIMCODD. The Financial Gazett