Sisal workers seek review of working conditions deal

Thursday March 26 2020

Sisal workers sun-dry the products at an estate

Sisal workers sun-dry the products at an estate based in Tanga Region. PHOTO | FILE 

By The Citizen Correspondent @TheCitizenTZ news@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. Workers in the sisal subsector have urged the Tanzania Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (TPAWU) to review its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Sisal Association of Tanzania (SAT), an agreement they consider outdated and is against their best interests.

The voluntary agreement was entered into by TPAWU and SAT to determine and regulate relations between the two in the interests of mutual understanding and co-operation.

It stipulates such matters as the number of days of work, wages, and incentive schemes, as well as how work performance will be determined.

Of particular interest is that the workers want the review to pay careful attention to the issues of wages, the measurements used to determine whether or not a worker has met the required goal to deserve payment, as well a guarantee that they work only five hours on Saturdays.

The call comes against the background of a botched strike by sisal workers at the Amboni Plantations Ltd (APL), Tanzania’s largest producer of sisal fibre who took the step to press the firm to improve their working conditions by allowing them more time off-work, as well as the right to air their grievances.

The workers - most of them sisal cutters, porters and others mainly on menial jobs – decry being ignored by authorities and left at the mercy of employers whose profit-making motive has subjected workers to inhumane conditions.

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“We are being governed by an outdated agreement. But when you to talk about it, brother, prepare to pack your bags and go,” said the father of seven, Rashid Kapinga, from APL’s Sakura estate in Pangani, Tanga. APL also operates the Kigombe and Mwera estates in.

The firm does not want to hear anything like that, says the 38-year old Kapinga who has been with the company for about five years: “It has created a fearsome environment. But we are a free country. We don’t have to fear each other but rather respect each other.”

Apart from denying the dictatorial charges levelled against his firm, the APL human resources manager, Akida Abdallah, said it was not fair to point out the firm while all sisal companies are guided, in their relationship with the workers, by the agreement. “The agreement is what SAT and TPAWU agreed on. If there have to be any changes they have to come from the two bodies,” he said.

“It is difficult for Amboni [Plantations Limited] alone to change that. It is difficult because even if we wanted to reduce the working hours, for example, we will have to apply to SAT and if they see it logical then they would allow us to proceed,” he said.

Kapinga is just one of the eight hundred workers working at the APL’s three estates who went in a stay-at-home strike on February 1, 2020, which lasted for seventeen days trying to force APL to reduce Saturdays’ working hours from eight to five, among other demands.

The strike took place against the background of a Tanga regional labour officer Eliza Kalenga to the APL Sakura estate where among other things she told workers there that the law requires that they work only half a day on Saturdays, a call that was immediately followed by demands from the workers to the APL management.

Although the strike failed to provide what the workers wanted, it forced APL to reduce the measurements used to measure the workers’ performance. For example, for cutters, from expected to cut 110 sisal bundles a day they are now required to cut a minimum of 103 bundles.

While TPAWU local representative at Sakura estate, Mr Kabunda Butije, calls the changes “substantive,” workers have nevertheless criticised the union for its failure to work on their demands, while accusing it of being a sell-out and unrepresentative of workers’ demands, accusations that TPAWU denies.

One is Mr Bellason Mtolela, 38, a father of three who has been with the firm for about two years. He said the crux of the matter is that Saturday is supposed to be a half-day work something he sees has not been implemented since they called off their strike.

“We asked for a reduction of working hours on Saturdays but they [TPAWU and APL] brought us issues of measurements,” said Mr Mtolela whose explanations were supported by about fifteen workers from Sakura estate interviewed by The Citizen. “We did not send them [TPAWU] to negotiate measurements. We wanted a reduction of working hours.”

The government says the question of whether or not to review the collective bargaining agreement between sisal workers and their employers is on the hand of their respective associations, according to Mr Andrew Mwalwisi, a director of labour from the Prime Minister office.

The TPAWU general secretary Kabengwe Ndebile Kabengwe told The Citizen that the review of the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the SAT is not a matter of impossibility, saying, in fact, the agreement is revisited frequently as soon as a matter of contention arises between the parties.

Although he did not say when was the last time the agreement was reviewed, Mr Kabengwe said he “would look at the demand” by the workers as TPAWU is “committed to ensuring workers welfare while at the same maintaining good industrial relations between the workers and their management.”

SAT executive director Raphael Ngalondwa had this to say on the need to review the agreement: “The need to review the agreement, especially on measurements, has always been on top of our agendas. The measurements are outdated and there is basically a need to review them.”

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