The least paid workers in the insurance sector have been awarded a 34 percent salary hike for the period January to December 2013, after a compromise agreement that will see the lowest paid worker getting US$525 per month.
The increment, on a sliding scale for selected grades, is in respect of lower grades while negotiating parties agreed that increments for higher grades would be discussed between workers' committees and employers at company level. The respective salary increments are with effect from January 1 2013.
The latest salary increase follows a compromise agreement between workers' and employers' representatives to bring minimum salaries closer to the monthly cost of living and Poverty Datum Line.
According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, the consumer basket for an average urban family of six was US$568 in January 2013.
Workers' representatives had brought to the collective bargaining table demands for a minimum salary of US$700 plus an 80 percent increment across the board.
Employers, on the other hand, were only prepared to award an inflation-linked pay hike, but parties reached a compromise to avoid repeating previous bargaining outcomes where parties were deadlocked and resorted to arbitration.
Insurance Employees' Association of Zimbabwe secretary-general Mr Moses Hunga said they expect the increase in salaries for the least-paid workers to positively impact salary levels for higher grades to be negotiated at company level.
'The increase for the least-paid was from US$391 to US$525 and that it a huge increase, which should be appreciated, if people see things positively,' he said.
'Once the salaries for the least paid workers have been increased, there is no way those with lower grades would keep earning more than those above them.'
Insurance sector workers want salaries for least paid workers to be at par or above the minimum in the banking sector.
Their argument is based on the fact that the Ministry of Finance regards them as falling under financial services.
Mr Hunga said the ZIEU held bargaining skills training workshops for worker representatives in Harare and Bulawayo last year, which should 'come in handy' when the workers engage their employers at company level.
Insurance Employers' Association of Zimbabwe secretary-general Mr Lawrence Gonye said the increase for the lowest grades was significant, as it was a result of the need to address historical imbalances regarding salaries in the sector.
He said negotiating parties were driven by the need to recognise the 'hard fact' that there was justifiable need to bring the lowest salaries closer to the cost of living levels.
'If the (collective bargaining) engagements continue on the basis of the last engagement we had, then things would be right for our sector,' he said.
But he added that 'the agreement is never going to be liked by everyone in the sector'.
Mr Gonye said insurance sector employers were still trying to restart and maintain a growth mode after years of economic instability in the country yet there was the compelling need and pressure for living salaries and wages.
While increments have been effected for the least grades, there was a hue and cry in his tone that suggested other grades yet to get increments would find it hard to get pay hikes.
Mr Gonye said employees yet to receive increments need to 'make sacrifices' and 'accept' remaining on current salaries, which would be reviewed as the economy improved.
But workers' representatives are unlikely to accept the proposal after the ZIEU boss, Mr Hunga, said they had a binding agreement with the employers that salary increments for the other grades would be negotiated at company level.
ZIEU is also currently in the process of pushing for housing schemes for insurance sector employees and share ownership schemes for workers in the sector.
By Golden Sibanda