By Austin Muswere/ Columnist

Farm workers celebrate the Promulgation of the Occupational Safety, Health and Environment regulation SI 197 of 2020 in the Agricultural Sector amid to Covid-19

The agreement has come at a very crucial and critical moment when all countries into the world are suffering from the socio-economic and political impacts of Covid-19 global pandemic. As a result of Covid-19 pandemic, farm workers are suffering a lot due to the deteriorated health conditions in the majority of the farm health facilities.

Nevertheless, the Statutory Instrument 197 of 2020 has given a relief to the farm workers who were operating in an industry that had a huge vacuum as their Collective Bargaining Agreement Statutory Instrument 116 of 2014 was silent about the provision of OSHE at the workplaces and in the Industry. After consulting the employees in the Industry, the General Secretary of General Agriculture and Plantation Worker’s Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) Golden Magwaza said that “It is a milestone achievement for the workers to have protection at law from the previously violated health rights of the employees”. The Statutory Instrument on OSHE came at a time when there was no law on OSHE in the Agriculture Industry and in the absence of a national health and safety law in the country.

GAPWUZ appreciates the role of the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social welfare and National Social Security Authority (NSSA), National Employment Council for the Agriculture Industry (NEC) in taking a central role in the promulgation of the Statutory regulation. The farm workers in Zimbabwe have championed in terms of their call for the improvement of health conditions at workplaces and the world of work at large. Asked about the opinion of the employers, Mr Ben Gilpin said that, most of the aspects covered by the Code reflects the good work of practice. However, he went on to state that, some provisions will be difficult to implement, hence there is a considerable need for training of both employers and the employees in the Agriculture Industry.

Tracing back to the history of the formulation of this OSHE Code, in 2014, there was a provision inserted in the CBA of the Agriculture Industry SI 116 of 2014 pointing out to the OSHE Code which was yet to be gazetted. Thus the Statutory Instrument 197 of 2020 has further improved the conditions of the principle regulation SI 116 of 2014 which had no provisions of OSHE in the whole agriculture industry. The promulgation of this OSHE Code is the first of its kind in Zimbabwe to have agriculture sector championing health and safety concerns of farm workers at large.

The union (GAPWUZ) shall roll out awareness and educational programmes throughout the country to facilitate the full implementation of the regulatory guidelines in the Industry. Some of the salient features contained in the Code reflects the involvement of all employees i.e (permanent, seasonal, fixed term contracts, casual). It is very crucial for the employers in the Agriculture Sector to improve the welfare of workers in different areas for example in tobacco tunnels systems and others. The Code will help to reduce the risk exposure of farm workers who are the most vulnerable people associated with the global health challenge.

The Statutory Instrument came as a result of the bargaining process between employers and employees as social parties and every Agricultural entity is bound by it, any violation would be treated as unfair labour practice.

Austin Muswere is the Deputy General Secretary of GAPWUZ, a trade union for farmworkers and he writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on muswerea@hotmail.com , 0776182502/0717169352/0712581807.