Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Innocent versus security company

Our house is located on a small but beautiful complex in posh Harare. There are some massive advantages to live on a complex. First, it is possible to get to know our neighbours a little bit, but also because it has got good security and we don't have to worry about it.

Innocent is our main security guard. He works six days a week, 12 hours a day, no holiday. He is employed by an external company, security is a flourishing business here, responsible for the security on the complex. He gets paid a $100 every 2 weeks i.e. about $0.70 an hour (which might still be a lot in some other developing countries where people live on $1 a day, but in Zim and especially Harare, it doesn't get you very far) .

For the best part of the day, he listens to the local radio on his mobile phone sitting in the vicinity of the gate. Despite the fact that he is doing one of the most boring job in the world, he is always jumping to open the gate as promptly as possible and greets residents and visitors with a big smile.

Yesterday, Innocent stopped me as I was entering the complex to ask if I had a job for him. Rather than quickly dismiss a request that is so common here in Zim, I thought it was worth having a little chat. He explained that he hadn't been paid for the last two weeks, and that this was the fourth time it happened since last November. So now he was fed up. Naively, I suggested that maybe, he could present his employer (a reputable company) with a bank statement and claim what was owed to him. I also promised that I would have a chat with the people dealing with the company on the complex.

To add to my concern, Pedzi confirmed Innocent's desperate situation to the point that he had to ask to be fed by some house staff on the complex.

Later that day, I knocked at my neighbour's door (a lovely lady) and presented the situation. Only to be politely told that this was none of our problem, that it always happens with security companies. Surely he could take his employer to court – Zimbabwe has an elaborate labour law, generally very protective of employees - but he might need support in the process. Well, maybe but the tribunal would then puncture half of what he had gained so that was probably not worth it. However, she was happy to report the issue but then, most probably, Innocent would end up being sacked for telling us. And anyway, it was better to let “them” deal with “their” own problems because “they” had “their” own ways of sorting things out within “their” culture and that if “we” got involved, “we” always ran into problems. I'm quite tempted to call that hand bleaching if it wasn't for the fact that I really like my neighbour. Whichever way I looked at it, I felt that I was advocating for a lost cause. As diplomatically as I could, I said that actually, it was my problem because this person is directly working for me every time he opens that gate for my fat 4x4. And that knowing what I knew, every time I greeted Innocent, I couldn't ignore the fact he was victim of a simple form of human exploitation and basically working for free when I dutifully paid my monthly levy, which in huge part involved his salary. And that I would be happy to pay for a more expensive company if I knew they were paying their guys fairly. I concluded that I was going to ask Innocent whether he wanted us to report the issue to his employer considering the risks he was facing or not. And I left.

I didn't have the time to talk to Innocent again. Five minutes later, a knock on my door. My neighbour. She WAS going to talk to the security company, she WAS going to insist that all the guards on the complex were going to be paid no matter what and she WAS going to make sure that they were not going to get sacked for talking to us. I'm still waiting to hear about the outcome of her meeting, but what puzzles me is that, nothing had changed since I spoke to her but suddenly, it all became possible.

I hope I can still be greeted by Innocent for a little while more and that he is now being paid his full wage... until he finds greener pastures than the manicured lawns of our complex.

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