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No bonus, no Xmas cheer for workers

“J onasi nhasi akadziruma, atambira bonus yake iwe…Inonzi bonus, wapenga nayo bonus! (Jonas is rich today; he has just received his bonus… his bonus has made him crazy!).

By Christopher Mahove

These are the yesteryear lyrics from a song by Patrick Mukwamba which rocked the suburbs this time of the year when almost every worker would get their 13th cheque.

From the end of November when bonuses are traditionally paid, most streets in high-density suburbs would be bustling with activity and ear blasting music as everybody brought out their radio speakers and perched them on tree-tops or makeshift stands outside their yards.

But that is now just a dream and the festive season does not arrive here anymore.

Bonus time now seems like just another time in the month of June — cold and miserable.

Retailers, clothing shops and other businesses which used to record brisk business this time of the year are suffering as life has turned into a nightmare for many ordinary Zimbabweans.

Consumer Council of Zimbabwe executive director, Rosemary Siyachitema, said last week that it was now difficult for Zimbabwean consumers to enjoy the festive season as they used to do.

She said the high cost of goods in the country, coupled with shrinking disposable incomes has made consumers prioritise only critical needs like school fees.

“I don’t suppose consumers still enjoy the festive season as before because there just isn’t any money and everything has become too expensive. What it means is that people have been stretched too far,” she said.

Siyachitema said many companies were not performing well, forcing them to abandon the luxury of bonuses.

“We know that civil servants have got bonuses but it is unlikely that a lot of companies have also paid. It has become our business to advise people not to overspend during the festive season to avoid the pain associated with January,” she said.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) secretary general, Japhet Moyo, said even if some people had received their bonuses, the money would still not be enough to buy luxuries for Christmas.

“The characteristics of the festive season have gone as people operate on a deficit because of challenges they are facing,” he said.

“Business nowadays is not being done in a formal way and it surprises us for example that while hotels have been 90% booked from January to December, employers will still claim that they have no money to pay bonuses,” he said.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa on Thursday while presenting the 2015 national budget, said that over 4 500 companies have closed shop, rendering at least 55 000 workers jobless.

A branch manager at a supermarket outlet in Harare who spoke on condition of anonymity said consumers’ buying patterns had changed over the years during the festive season, with less and less people coming for bulk shopping compared to the past years.

“I would say business this time around has declined by about 50% compared to last year. People are not buying and we have had to introduce a Christmas promotion and put loud music outside to generate excitement, which has not yielded the desired results so far,” he said.

He said customers preferred buying from pavement vendors whose products were cheaper.

A sales representative at one departmental shop in the city centre said business was very low, with most customers being those on hire purchase.

“We had expected that with the closure of our sister shops, Meikles and Greatermans, we would be overwhelmed, especially this festive season, but as you can see, there are only a few customers trickling in,” he said.

Thousands of workers across the country have been struggling to survive, as many companies fail to pay wages on time with some going for several months without paying their employees.

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