No nation can rise without the impact of labourers — be they manual or professionals. To every little development noticeable, the underlining denominator is the labour force.
Definitely there can never be manufacturing companies, tobacco estates, tea estates, security companies, bus companies etc in the absence of workers. It is worth noting that every time tobacco leaf is auctioned at the auction floors we realise that with it is also auctioned the sweat of labourers.
Little do we seem to realise that for every service rendered to us it has with it human sweat. The million dollar question is: is the sweat that has been shed to give us the comfort and delight attained through the service been adequately compensated?
The wages and salaries that citizens of this country receive are shocking and appalling. Thousands and thousands of the citizens of the country earn less than K20,000 a month, thus further pushing them to the margins of abject poverty. The minimum wage in the country does not even help matters as it is far too low to necessitate an employee to attain even the least basic necessities of life.
We have a tragedy in the sense that our fellow countrymen and women live on starving wages. It surprises not therefore that in some institutions seminars are organised with the element of pocketing allowances to supplement a living not development. Do we wonder then that we hold countless seminars and workshops that yield nothing? Most of them are a means to supplementing a living than a strategy for addressing any intended issues.
It is the starving wages and salaries that are leaving our beloved countrymen and women with no choices but to take the risk of travelling to South Africa and live the miserable life of illegal immigrants — the life of a cat and mouse relationship with the police — all just to earn a little to feed their families back home. They are ready to be deported a countless times all just to ensure that they earn a good living for their families. The labour market in their own country gives them no hope for survival.
It smacks of injustice that a guard who risks his life to safeguard lives of others and even property worth millions or billions of kwachas, earns as little less as K10,000 a month. This is the very same guard who has a family to care for, relatives back home to buy fertilizer for, rental and water and electricity bills to settle, children to send to school to become productive citizens of the country, medical expenses to pay — the list is endless.
At present, the most probable way to uplifting millions of starving-wages paid citizens of the country is through revolutionising some concepts. Why is it that the poorly paid do not have medical schemes yet the top people enjoy VVIP free medical schemes? Why the unequal economics of according the top people thousands of litres of fuel while people at the bottom of the labour who are poorly paid are not even offered a little transport allowance to alleviate their mobility problems? Thousands of underpaid Malawians walk long distances every day to and from work.
Certainly, the imbalance between the top people and the bottom people in terms of earnings and privileges is unjustifiable. All we end up creating is the establishment of the Berlin wall between the rich and the poor that our wages policies relegate to the margins of abject poverty. In the very end, the children of a guard will become guards and those of the rich will end up ruling the poor again. We are not providing the poor an opportunity to rise to greater heights.
It is high time that humanity takes cognizance of the fact that no economic development could be meaningful if it fails to uplift millions of masses from the whims of poverty into good life. As inflation keeps hovering high thus sky- rocketing the basic necessities of life, why should we give a blind eye to the salaries of the miserably paid citizens of our country, the very compatriots of our country whose sweat make us comfortable?
One most confusing factor is that at times the people who have the capacity and power to fight for the end of poverty amongst the poor seem to prioritise their benefits. How many times have our legislators in the august House hiked their salaries and sitting allowances with unimaginable percentages all in the name of the increase in cost of living? Have they, alternatively, took the same vigour to initiative changes in the miserable home takings of the poorly paid employed citizens of the country who they represent in the august house? The answer is a big NO.
At present we need a strong policy than can end up seeing workers paid handsomely. Is the Asian business community, the Chinese business community and other foreign entrepreneurs in the country paying the citizens of the country wages enough to enable them attain basic necessities of life? Should we as a country give a blind eye to the exploitation of our citizens, the very same people that have to partake in the fruits of economic development of their motherland? Why should others be making unaccountable profits at the expense of starving workers?
It is time the business people model their mindset on the benchmark of the philosophy of Kirsten Poole, co-owner of Kirsten’s Café and Dish Caterers. Poole says: “trying to save money by short changing my employees would be like skimping on ingredients. I would lose more than I saved because of declining quality, service, reputation and customer base. You can’t build a healthy business or a healthy economy on a miserable minimum wage.”
Now is the time that the government ‘makes work pay.’ By bringing in legislation that increases the minimum wage to a good rate, the government would indirectly also have waged a winning war against poverty and diseases. As workers would afford basic necessities of life, they would certainly live healthy lives and further have the capacity to seek proper medical care.
It is time that the salaries of police, teachers, guards, clerics and other lower paid citizens of the country so too wages of casual labours have a feel of economic growth through descent salary hikes. As long as our people live on the margins of miserable wages and salaries, talk of national economic growth can mean nothing to them. Our economic policies can only be meaningful if they address the plight of our beloved compatriots.
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