Written by Enock Balakasi
Minister of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development Grace Obama Chiumia has warned tobacco estate owners in the country that they will face the law if found illtreating their workers.
Many tobacco tenants experience a lot of abuses at the hands of their masters.
On Wednesday January 9, 2019, Chiumia inspected some tobacco estates and farms in Kasungu District that included Chigwantha Estate at Chiwengo in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kalumbu.
“I am very disappointed looking at the conditions in which the tenants are staying in. Tenants deserve to enjoy their labour and human rights just like any other persons,” the Minister said.
She noted that the grass thatched huts the workers stay in are poorly ventilated.
Many of the huts are the size of a kitchen but accommodate large families of more than seven people in some cases.
According to Chiumia, her Ministry will continue to conduct awareness campaigns aimed at addressing the situation.
However, she noted that this requires collaborative efforts by all stakeholders.
Under the tenancy system, estate owners recruit people from faraway districts to work on their tobacco farms.
The tenants are offered accommodation and food rations on monthly basis and receive a small portion of the tobacco proceeds at the end of the farming season.
However, maize is the only basic necessity most of them claim they receive from their landlords.
Otherwise they have to find ways of acquiring other necessities despite not having alternative income generating activities.
“We work for our bosses just because of poverty while benefiting very little. We are only enriching them and our poverty is worsening,” said one tenant identifying himself as Eric Phiri.
“They do not give us basic needs like soap, salt and relish and we have to do piece works for us to find all these which makes us work as slaves. Sometimes we borrow money from our bosses that we pay back at 100 percent interest rate.”
Phiri added: “We get paid at the end of the production season and in our struggle to fend for ourselves we fail to send our children to school, let alone buy them school uniforms and other learning materials”.
While acknowledging the existence of the challenges tobacco tenants face, owner of Khalidwechuma Estate Yusuf Bonongwe said farm-owners are trying their best in ensuring that the welfare of tenants is improved with regard to wages and provision of essential amenities.
He said their efforts are being hampered by low tobacco prices as well as the untrustworthiness of the tenants.
“At our farm, we are now providing our tenants all the necessities and we are thinking of constructing decent houses as well as encouraging children of our tenants to go to school,” Bonongwe said.
“Even as we are no longer benefiting from tobacco due to low prices, we are still clinging to the industry just because we are used to it,” he said.
Kasungu is one of the districts well known for growing tobacco and as of today there are over 22,000 tobacco estates in the district.