Empoyee’s right to fair wages

Emmanuel Zvada is an award winning 2020 Most Fabulous Global HR Practitioner, HR disrupter and trusted coach.

ONE of the fundamental rights of the employees is right to fair wages but with these trying economic circumstances, it seems as if a lot are being shortchanged at work considering the cost of living has overtaken their wages. Wage theft is now a reality in various sectors as its ugly head continues to manifest through non-payment of deserved salaries, overtime, leave days accrued and non-payment of terminal benefits, among others.

The fundamental right of the workers

Every person has the right to fair and safe labour practices and standards and to be paid a fair and reasonable wage. Failure to pay what workers deserve is wage theft and is a violation of international labour standards, as well as national legislation on the employment of workers. Wage theft is a reality, hence worker rights and workplace discrimination should not be ignored. If you check different professionals with same qualifications and experience one working for a government institution, another a private company or a local non-governmental organisation, you will be shocked by variances in wages. Wage theft comes in various forms either being dishonest in the payments of wages or failing to pay the wages.

What is wage theft?

When companies do not pay employees all the money they’re owed, intentionally, that is considered wage theft.  Wage theft refers to any activities, actions or practices that prevent workers from receiving their lawfully earned or contractually promised compensation. In other words, wage theft can simply mean the non-payment or underpayment of earned wages to employees by employers. This failure to pay what workers are legally entitled to can be called wage theft and when employers get away with wage theft, it creates an unfair advantage over honest employees. Workers in all industries can fall victim to wage theft, hence it’s a subject that needs to be unpacked and discussed as many are victims of it.

Protection of employees rights

Section 6 of the Labour Act, which speaks to the protection of employees’ right to fair labour standards, states that: “No employer shall pay any employee a wage which is lower than that specified for such employee by law or by agreement made under this Act.” Section 12 of the Act goes on to obligate the employer to provide particulars of the employee’s remuneration, its manner of calculation and the intervals at which it will be paid. Section 12A states that remuneration payable in money shall not be paid to an employee by way of promissory notes, vouchers, coupons or in any form other than legal tender. These provisions and sections of the Labour Act clearly spell out the obligation of the employer in terms of remuneration, how it should be paid.  Failure to abide by it becomes an unfair labour practice in form of wage theft.

The wage theft dilemma

Not paying a worker at all

Failure to pay what workers are legally entitled to is wage theft, where employer takes money that belongs to employees and keeps it for themselves. This is a clear violation of international labour standards, as well as national legislation on the employment of workers. Notably, this violation of the right to be paid for one’s work is common in the public as well as private sectors. And, while government institutions are guilt of such violations, top managers continue to receive high salaries and generous benefits. Wage theft is endemic, no group of workers is immune, including workers earning good wages , though low wage earners are particularly vulnerable.

Paying below minimum wage

Minimum wage violations, in particular, are most prevalent in industries that employ a lot of low-wage workers like service industries. Statutory Instrument 81 of 2020, specifies minimum wages. In this scenario the employer cannot pay employees minimum wages below those specified in the statutory instrument because it becomes wage theft. The employer may apply to the appropriate National Employment Council (NEC) for exemption from paying the minimum wage stating reasons therefor. In the case that the employer is not regulated by an NEC, applications shall be made to the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister and exemption will be granted on the basis that the employer provides non-monetary benefits of a quantifiable value to its employees.

Non-payment of overtime

Overtime disputes are unending between employers and workers with employers wanting free labour and workers wanting to make more money through overtime.

Overtime provides employees with a source of supplemental income without having to spread their loyalty to other employers. However, it becomes a problem when it’s unpaid. Unpaid overtime can lead to a lot of tension within the company. Employers should, make sure that if they introduce it, they can afford to pay.

Escalating inflation has employers and compensation managers puzzled over compensation strategies. Recently a medical aid society wrote to members telling them that it will notify them of their monthly subscription later in fear of the continuous increase in prices.

Cost of living, cost of labour, minimum wage and a living wage are not even matching. They are spinning around in our heads like uninvited guests.

  • Emmanuel Zvada is an award winning 2020 Most Fabulous Global HR Practitioner, HR disrupter and trusted coach. For comments inbox or call +263771467441


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