The situation at the loss-making State granary, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), has taken another turn for the worst amid revelations that the parastatal is failing to make pension pay-outs to its ex-employees, the majority of whom are wallowing in poverty
The situation is most likely to trigger a second wave of demonstrations against GMB’s management by hundreds of its ex-employees, whose contracts of employment were terminated last year, taking advantage of a July 17, 2015 Supreme Court ruling that allowed employers to get rid of their workers on three months’ notices.
GMB, one of the State-run enterprises dependent on the fiscus for support, made headlines early this year when over 400 former workers, including women and babies, camped outside the parastatal’s headquarters in Harare for over a month demanding 10 months’ salary arrears after their employment contracts were terminated on notice.
The ex-employees only dispersed after the High Court ruled in their favour.
In terms of the High Court ruling, the workers are to be paid the outstanding salaries in batches of US$350 000 every month until the arrears have been cleared. GMB owes the workers about US$4 million in unpaid salaries.
Information gleaned from GMB documents by the Financial Gazette indicates that the parastatal has not been remitting contributions to the fund despite deducting the dues from employees.
A letter dated January 11, 2016 by GMB Pension Fund (GMB PF) finance and administration executive officer, a B Matsilele, informed one pension claimant (name withheld) that the fund’s coffers were empty.
Kindly be advised that your pension benefits will be processed as soon as we have received arrear pension contributions. The Grain Marketing Board did not remit pension contributions deducted between October 2013 and January 2015,” reads part of the letter.
GMB insiders allege rampant maladministration at the State-run granary.
Former employee and trustee at the GMB Pension Fund, Boveni Mutsanura, said it was improper for top managers at the parastatal to sit as trustees of the pension fund.
He said their involvement with the pension fund was unethical because they were earning lucrative perks and draining a large chunk of the money meant for pensioners.
“GMB managers must not be part and parcel of the pension fund because their allowances are milking the contributions that are made by employees. Since GMB managers are representative of employer interests they will not prioritise the viability of the fund, which is driven to protect employees’ interests. Government must quickly move in to correct this anomaly and protect employees,” he said.
Mutsanura also explained that the situation at GMB Pension Fund has been worsened by the lack of a format to calculate pension pay-outs for employees whose contracts of employment were terminated on notice.
He said the law does not have a provision on how those whose employment contracts were terminated on notice should be paid. Most employees are expecting to receive their pension pay-outs in full because they left employment at the discretion of the employer.
GMB Workers Union president, Steven Machaya, warned that the employees might stage a second wave of demonstrations should they fail to receive their pension pay-outs. He dismissed claims that the GMB PF is broke, hinting that all properties that were purchased since the establishment of the fund should be sold to meet the pensioners’ demands.
Efforts to get a comment from GMB’s communications department have been fruitless for the past two months. A bid to get the GMB PF chief executive officer, Taona Munzvandi, to comment was also futile after he indicated that he needed to get clearance from the relevant officials before commenting on the matter.
GMB’s mandate includes trading in cereals and oil seeds, the provision of logistic services to the agricultural industry as well as processing of products. Its main function is, however, that of ensuring national food security through production, procurement and management of serials.
Just like most parastatals, it has been crippled by a myriad of problem ranging from failure to pay workers and alleged corruption. GMB has often failed to pay workers leading to lack of confidence in it. Since 2013, GMB has also struggled to pay farmers, thereby undermining their ability to go back to the farms.