Tea pluckers—labourers who pick leaves for one of the most loved beverages in the world and one of Malawi’s major forex earner—receive peanuts for wages, according to a World Bank report.
But Tea Association of Malawi Limited (Taml) has argued that the wages are a reflection of prices they get on the tea market.
The report released in May adds that in absolute terms, the tea pluckers’ earnings are below the World Bank’s extreme poverty line for an average household.
According to the bank, extreme poverty line stands at $1.25 (K513) a day after being raised from $1 in 2008.
However, according to the report, which has been prepared by Oxfam under the Tea Improvement Programme, notes that the wages are not particularly low relative to other sectors in Malawi.
“[Malawi] is one of the poorest countries in the world, having the ninth lowest GDP per capita. In 2010, less than 20 percent of Malawians earned a monthly income that was above the tax-free threshold of K12 000. So, a tea plucker earns around 90 percent of the national average income. Basic cash wages from tea are lower than the national poverty line, which is however, reached when productivity payments and in-kind benefits are included,” reads the report in part.
The report further adds that in Malawi, there is unilateral, sector-wide determination of minimum basic wages through the tea employers’ association Taml, with no union involvement with the wage just above the statutory national minimum wage and is unrelated to estates’ profitability.
However Taml chief executive officer Clement Thindwa in an interview on Thursday argued that while the issue of poor wages does not only occur in their industry, the tea sector faces a number of problems, including stagnant world market prices.
“We are price takers unlike some sectors in Malawi and we have been experiencing stagnant prices for some time. As a result, our margins have been shrinking. People should also be aware that regardless of the problems, we take initiatives in labour welfare, including provision of health services and food for the labourers,” said Thindwa.
But the problem of poor wages in Malawi as indicated by the report may not be specific to the tea industry only.
A salary survey conducted recently by a Lilongwe faith-based organisation, Centre for Social Concern (CfSC), showed that domestic workers earned a minimum wage of K3 000 and a maximum of K22 000 per month, guards received between K7 000 and K20 000 per month while general workers carted home a pay-check between K5 000 and K64 000 per month.
But the government raised the statutory minimum wage by about 74 percent from K317 to K551 per day—about K15 000 per month for a six-day working week—effective January 1 2014.