There is need to regulate the wage amount paid to labourers in Tanzania particularly in the construction industry if the country is to reduce poverty levels and increase professionalism in the sector.
Last month I hired a Dar es Salaam based wage labourer to do some basic construction work for me. As he worked, we ventured into conversation deliberating the working conditions of wage labourers in the country.
‘Richie’ the only name he was willing to offer me, said his regular day starts before dawn.
“I have to wake up before the sun comes up,” he chuckles but maintains a somber look.
“You know, I live in the slums, so I have to get two buses to get to the site,” he continues after a moment of lamentation. According to Richie, as a wage labourer, his job is never guaranteed, as he put it; “at the site, it is first come first serve.”
So if he is not there in time, it means someone else will get his job and since he relies on this daily wage to sustain his family, missing a single day of work is disastrous.
“What will the children eat, mmh?” he queries “…what about my wife and transport ah!” he exclaims, grabs a handful of cement and smashes it onto the wall “…ni ngumu sana (its very hard)” he says with a heavy sigh.
The suffering of Richie is the plight of many wage labourers across the country. The plight affects all wage labourers not just those in the construction sector.
These so called ‘unskilled’ labourers learn their traits by hands on experience. Very few of them have gone through any formal training and many can barely read or write.
Most are migrant labourers from rural areas having moved into the city seeking a better life, Here they find that employment is not so easy to come by and even when one does secure work, it can prove very unfulfilling.
“I like my work but I don’t like my foreman,” many more wage labourers share with Richie this sentiment. It is not that these workers are complaining about the work but rather, the working conditions and terms or rather, the lack of working terms and contracts.
Most wage labourers work in very unsafe conditions, they have neither proper attire nor protective gear.
For work at a construction site, many simply wear old tattered rags and even go about barefoot.
While they make a meagre wage of around 5000/- a day, they are expected to purchase their own meals which on average go for 2000/- and then also pay for transport an average of 800/- They go back home with less than half of the money they toiled for.
“We eat outside the site area, the mamas bring food in buckets and then I take the bus back home…all the money I makes is gone,” Richie narrates.
There is need for a law to protect wage labourers or a union to stand for their rights. They should also be given priority and opportunity to improve their skills through subsidized vocational training.
“I need the money so I like when I get paid but I want to learn, I want to know more, the measurements, tools and techniques so I can improve my skills,” he tells me.
A community that is bias
As Richie narrated, wage labourers have little respect in the community, their tattered clothes and cement covered bodies are not the role models we see on TV.
The community is fed unrealistic expectations from western make belief movies that leave us undermining blue colour jobs.
It is hard to persuade the youth to embark on agriculture because the image of a barefoot peasant farmer is not the image of success.
As such, the wage labourer in Tanzania suffers a severe lack of self-esteem, at work, his foreman belittles him and back home the community undermines him.
“But what can we do eh? We have to eat and feed the family,” Richie consoles himself.
Know the law
Section 26-27 of the Employment and Labour Relations Act 2004 in Tanzania: In accordance with the constitution of Tanzania, every person without discrimination of any kind is entitled to remuneration commensurate with work and all persons working according to their ability are remunerated according to the measure and qualification for the work. Every person is entitled to just remuneration.
The wage rates are determined by Wage Boards constituted in accordance with Labour Institutions Order of 2007.
The minimum wage rates are fixed under the Wages Order taking into account among other factors cost of living, level of wages and income in the country, economic development, the minimum subsistence level, ability of employers to carry on their businesses, the remuneration and terms and conditions of employment, alleviation of poverty, and any other relevant matter.
To Richie, despite the elaborate wording of the law, its application is not felt; “cost of living…ha ha…alleviation of poverty, seriously life is so expensive and we are paid so little…” he continues to lament.