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How nurses recruited from Zimbabwe are being caught in UK ‘bonded labour’ schemes

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BY RAY MWAREYA

Zimbabwean care workers are being tricked into coming to the UK by unscrupulous middlemen who withhold up to half their wages and force them to live in squalor.

The scam, which plays on the acute shortages of nursing and care staff across Britain’s hospitals and care homes, has echoes of the debt bondage schemes recently revealed to be impacting Indonesian farmers.

Zimbabwe is in economic crisis and thousands of trained care professionals are seeking employment abroad.

However agencies – often run by Zimbabweans in the UK and unregulated – are exploiting them, a Telegraph investigation has found.

“When you are working for an agency [in the UK], they pay you 50 per cent of your total salary,” said Jim Moyo*, who moved to the UK from Harare in November 2018 to work in a care home in Margate.

“You are getting paid £14 per hour, but then these guys will pay you £7.”

He added that, once tax was deducted, he was left with just £4 per hour for “rent, food and all sorts of expenses”.

“[The agency] tells you: ‘I paid for your accommodation, flights, visa, [I’m] your sponsor’. It’s like a hideous loan,” said  Moyo.

While Zimbabwe’s nurses have found work in Britain for years, hiring care workers is a new phenomenon, and experts told the Telegraph that a lucrative ecosystem of manipulation has been built around it.

“Exploitation does not start on arrival [in the UK],” said Hillary Musarurwa, a Zimbabwe-born social scientist in England.

“It starts during the application process [in Zimbabwe].”

One route to the UK is by completing a Red Cross care worker certification programme.

“It’s like cow barns, Red Cross academies are filled to seams with UK-hopeful care-work trainees.

“It’s ex-teachers and geologists desperate to retrain for UK care work,” said Joseph Zuze*, a trainee nurse at Mutare Hospital, who plans to emigrate to the UK when he graduates.

‘Huge web of corruption’

The Certificate of Sponsorship (COS) is highly coveted, which has led to it being exploited by middlemen, according to locals.

Zuze said his wife had been scammed by “agents” who charged US$380 to put her on the training waitlist, despite the official Red Cross certification costing just US$300.

These agents are not in any way employed, endorsed or contracted by Red Cross Zimbabwe and there is no evidence Red Cross Zimbabwe is aware of them.

Closed WhatsApp groups, seen by the Telegraph, show that so-called agents then ask care workers to pay up to £5,000 if they want to be linked with UK-based care agencies.

“This has created another huge web of corruption; care agencies in the UK, run by Zimbabwe nationals, [are] gifting the COS to their relatives and friends first and anyone else [faces] hefty fees that reach £4,000,” said  Zuze

Another Zimbabwe-born nurse working for the NHS in North London added that she knew someone in the UK “charging £7,000”.

This clearly contradicts British law, according to Taffi Nyawanza, head of immigration at Mezzle Law in Birmingham who is well-known in Zimbabwe’s UK diaspora community.

“UK law is clear. A recruitment agency cannot charge a fee for ‘placing’ an employee.

“The person who ‘assigns’ or prepares and allocates the [COS] must not be related to the prospective employee. [If] this is the case, the relationship must be fully disclosed to the Home Office,” he said.

However regulation of these agencies is weak, and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) suggested that – although it is unacceptable that some overseas-based agencies are charging fees to place candidates with jobs in Britain – their hands are tied because the actors are not under UK jurisdiction.

“We understand repayment clauses may be used by some organisations to recoup upfront costs if internationally recruited staff do not meet the terms of their contract,” a spokesperson said.

“The vast majority of care workers are employed by private sector providers who ultimately set their pay, terms and conditions independent of central government. However, we would be concerned if repayment costs were disproportionate or punitive”.

Experts said the schemes have taken advantage of chronic staffing issues across the UK’s social and health care systems – the NHS alone is currently trying to fill 40,000 nursing positions – which has triggered a surge in international recruitment.

This week, the DHSC signed a deal with Nepal for 100 nurses to work at Hampshire Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, under a pilot scheme that could pave the way for thousands more Nelapese nurses to come to Britain.

But the ethics of the move are “debatable at best”, according to Sir Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, as Nepal is on an international recruitment red list – operated by the World Health Organization (WHO) – to prevent developed countries from actively recruiting from regions with a lack of health workers or an undeveloped health system.

“That the UK should have [to] do special deals with other countries to support its own NHS workforce is in itself a marker of how workforce planning for the NHS has failed,” Sir Andrew told the Telegraph.

“That we are taking from a country that has substantially lower numbers of healthcare workers than many countries have is something we should have serious reservations about.”

NHS England has also been accused of “emptying” Zimbabwe of health workers – although the country is not on the red list, experts have warned of a “critical shortage” of staff.

In 2020, the UK issued 1,059 skilled visas to Zimbabweans, a figure which jumped to 5,549 in 2022, placing the southern African country among the UK’s top five skilled visa grantees.

Yet the recruitment drive has drained Zimbabwe so badly that Bulawayo municipality, in the southwest, recently complained that 13 nurses out of its skeleton staff have moved to the UK since January.

That’s despite a vast difference in the number of health professionals per population.

In 2018, there were 1.9 nurses and midwives per 1,000 people in Zimbabwe, compared to the UK’s 8.2 nurses and midwives per 1,000.

But extreme poverty is stalking Zimbabwe, and nurses – who are paid just US$79 a month and expected to juggle a high patient load – are seeking a better life.

Inflation has shot to 479 percent this year alone, according to Steve Hanke, director of the Troubled Currencies project at the Cato Institute.

However, many find themselves no better off when they reach the UK – a situation experts say is now too large to ignore.

Rumours of agencies overcharging workers exploded publicly on Twitter in June, with leaked care-worker pay slips purportedly showing salaries of £2,255 drained by their employers under guises of administrative fees until just £604 was left.

Mr Moyo, who left the UK after a matter of months due to the conditions, said he was not alone in seeing his wages cut dramatically, or living in cramped conditions.

While in Britain, he was forced to pay £70 a week to share a house with eight others.

“I’ll never return to the UK as a care worker,” he told the Telegraph, describing the schemes as a form of modern slavery.

“”But the experiences of those who were undocumented were even worse, he added.

“I met with guys who told me, ‘I have been [in the UK] since 1999 and don’t have papers, so I do care work, I work for an agency and [I’m] left with 300 pounds.

“You just do what they ask you to do’,” Moyo said, referring to colleagues he met in Margate.

He added that some workers were so impoverished that they slept in the clients’ homes.

‘Slavery happening in front of our eyes’

Though UK law allows employers to dock wages for “reasonable costs”, any employee must not be left with an income that is below the UK national living wage of £9.50 an hour, Nyawanza said.

These workers are also subject to zero-hours contracts, which means an employer does not guarantee the individual any hours of work, according to Tich Dauramanzi, a Zimbabwe-born engineer who ran a legitimate care staffing agency in Stoke-on-Trent until 2017.

“This is slavery happening in front of our eyes. I strongly believe we are going to have a court case very soon.

“Most of these employers owe people more money than they can ever pay,” he said.

The DHSC told the Telegraph that it takes reports of illegal employment practices seriously, and that the Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority prosecutes lawbreakers, though it’s not the DHSC’s responsibility to penalise agencies.

The Home office has cracked down on similar practices in some Asian and East European recruitment companies in the past, with some success.

But Zimbabwe-owned care agencies have a clever tactic up their sleeve, according to  Dauramanzi.

“They are recruiting a lot of young [Zimbabweans]. For some, this is the first time they have been employed.

“Most of them are gripped by the fear factor. They’re told ‘here’s your only chance to come to the UK,’” he said.

Meanwhile, the UK’s strict immigration regime has also exacerbated exploitation, according to Justine Currell director at the anti-slavery charity, Unseen.

“The hostile environment is creating an ability for people to be [living] in exploitation, to be kept in exploitation, and to not to want to come to authorities for fear of repercussions,”  Currell said.

The hostile environment policy was introduced in 2012 by then-Home Secretary Theresa May, with the intention of making life in the UK difficult for those who cannot show the right paperwork.

Such policies prevent people from accessing housing, healthcare, education, work, bank accounts, and benefits.

Though Unseen runs a help fund for victims to report anonymously, the reality is that “people feel they have no options but to continue working,”  Currell said.

“[It’s] very difficult [to] get info from individuals because there are no easy routes to get support. It’s quite tragic.” – The Telegraph

 

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Zimbabwe to more than double spending in 2023

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BY GODFREY MARAWANYIKA AND RAY NDLOVU

Zimbabwe provided the first details of how a new mineral royalty policy will be enforced, as the country considers more than doubling spending in 2023 to help revive an economy that exited a recession last year.

The royalty policy that came into effect in October compels miners to pay half of their royalties in minerals and the rest in cash. The plan presented by Zimbabwean Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube on Thursday breaks the payment down to half in mineral form, 40% in local currency and 10% in foreign-currency cash.

Although traditionally, royalties are remitted in cash, it is pertinent that the current formulae be reviewed in line with government policy to preserve value and mitigate against revenue loss,” said Ncube.

The southern African nation has vast mineral resources including gold, diamonds and coal deposits. It has the world’s third-largest known platinum deposits after neighboring South Africa and Russia. Miners say they will comply with the new policy.

Ncube projects total expenditure will more than double to 4.2 trillion Zimbabwe dollars ($6.5 billion) in the 2023 budget.

The bulk of the funds will be spent on social services and infrastructure projects, with a key focus on the mining, energy and agricultural sectors to stimulate economic growth, he said in a budget presentation to lawmakers at the new Chinese-built Parliament in Mount Hampden, 23 kilometers (14 miles) north of the capital, Harare.

Economic growth globally is being crimped by tightening financial conditions as central bankers including Zimbabwe’s try to temper high inflation, adding to the damage from the war in Ukraine and China’s slowdown.

Zimbabwe’s benchmark interest rate is at 200%, while annual inflation is at 269%.

The IMF last month cut its forecast for global growth next year to 2.7%, from 2.9% and sees Zimbabwe’s economy expanding at 2.8%.

Other highlights

Ncube expects Z$3.9 trillion in revenue.

Plans to increase value-added tax to 15% from 14.5% from Jan 1

Allocates Z$76 billion  toward next year’s general elections, in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa is seeking re-election

Budget deficit to GDP is forecast at 1.5%

To plug the funding gap, the government plans a bond issuance on the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange

Offers tax relief measures including cutting an electronic tax levied on US dollar transactions to 2% from 4%-Bloomberg 

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Zinwa pre-paid water system weighs heavily on Hwange residents

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BY FORTUNE MOYO

When Dr Tulani Maposa’s tenants wash their dishes or clothes at a tap outside his house, chances are that he’s secretly watching them.

Sometimes when residents take showers, he listens through the walls to make sure they don’t stay in too long.

Keeping a close eye on tenants’ water practices may sound like an invasion of privacy.

But Maposa swears it’s not his choice. “I am forced to monitor how tenants are using water so that it lasts for the month,” says the family man and medical doctor for a local football team.

Maposa owns a three-bedroom house in Empumalanga, a suburb of Hwange, a coal mining town in western Zimbabwe.

He occupies part of the house with his wife and three children, and rents out two bedrooms to two other families.

Maposa and his tenants share common areas like the kitchen and bathrooms.

A new and controversial change in the way residents like Maposa are billed for water has met stiff resistance from consumers and their advocates, who say it hurts those who can’t afford to pay for water in advance.

The Zimbabwe National Water Authority, popularly known as Zinwa began installing new meters last year that require customers to prepay for the water they use.

But landlords like Maposa say the new meters have tremendously increased their bills, forcing them to take drastic, and at times invasive, measures to ensure their tenants don’t waste water.

efore the authority introduced prepaid water meters, residents paid their water bills after usage, at the end of the month.

The new system requires customers to go online and pay for a code that allots them “tokens” of water.

When the tokens run out, the meter automatically shuts off the flow of water until the consumer buys more.

Maposa says his monthly bill, which used to average around 2,000 Zimbabwean dollars (ZWL) ($3.89) before a prepaid meter was installed at his property in March, has shot up 65% to 3,300 ZWL ($6.42) for the 30 cubic meters (almost 8,000 gallons) of water the three households on his property use.

“It is such an unfair system,” he says.

During times of network connectivity failure, which are common and can last up to four days, Maposa says it’s impossible for even people who have money to buy more water when they run out.

He’s concerned that could turn into a health crisis, especially now that people are trying to avoid contracting the coronavirus.

Clifford Nkabinde, who works as a freelance accountant for various organizations, says his water bill has increased nearly 60 percent since April, when the water authority installed a prepaid water meter at the family house in Empumalanga, where he lives with his parents.

“When I don’t get any work for a particular time, life becomes tough,” Nkabinde says.

“My parents are my responsibility; and with the introduction of these meters, life has become more difficult as I also take care of food, electricity, water and other necessities.”

Nongovernmental organizations also accuse the water authority of using the prepaid meters as a way to privatize water, which they say is an infringement on the human right to water.

“Prepaid meters ensure that access to water is only guaranteed to those who can pay,” says Joy Mabenge, national chairperson of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, a social and economic justice organization.

“This is akin to privatization and commodification of water.”

But Marjorie Munyonga, a spokesperson for the water authority, denies that the agency is trying to privatize water.

She says the upgrades to prepaid water meters were necessary because the gadgets are an emerging innovation to help with water resource management.

“It does not in any way limit anyone’s right to water,” she says. “In fact, prepaid meters are giving consumers greater control of their water-use patterns, which was not the case with the old metering system.”

Munyonga denies that the new meters have made water more expensive for consumers, saying the agency uses exactly the same pricing tariffs for the new meters as it did the old.

She says there are new pricing tiers designed to encourage conservation of water, which might explain why some are paying more.

For example, a customer who uses under 10 cubic meters (2,641 gallons) of water is charged 173.59 ZWL ($0.33) for each cubic meter (264 gallons), compared to 300.89 ZWL ($0.59) per cubic meter between 21 and 30, she says.

“The narrative that prepaid water is more expensive is a result of misconceptions emanating from the fact that when the water authority introduced prepaid meters, the postpaid and prepaid systems were integrated in a way that allows clients to pay off their debts wherever they purchase prepaid tokens,” Munyonga says.

Many urban water supply agencies in African countries such as Namibia, Zambia, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya and others have adopted prepaid water meters to improve collection of payments.

Despite the development, controversy surrounds the system as some see it infringing on people’s right to water.

Local residents such as Nomthandazo Masuku say individual cities should create backup water supply systems to kick in when residents run out of water and can’t afford to buy more from the water authority, or when they have no network connectivity.

The mother of two says she and other residents are pushing the Hwange Local Board, the town council, to drill boreholes for residents as an alternative water source.

“When the water token is running low, we are forced to use the bush to relieve ourselves because we need to save water for other uses,” she says.

“It is more difficult when you have children.”

Dumisani Nsingo, the public relations officer for the Hwange Local Board, says the local council is looking into the issue of drilling boreholes in its area of jurisdiction as a contingent measure in the event of water disconnections.

“We included the drilling of eight boreholes at selected areas in our budget this year,” Nsingo says.

Other residents want the water authority to stop installing the new meters and return their old ones. In February, about a month before Maposa’s meter was installed, he and a dozen other residents took the agency to the High Court in Bulawayo.

A judge agreed with the residents that installation of prepaid meters without consent of the consumers was “unlawful, unreasonable and unfair.”

The judge ordered the agency to stop installation of meters, remove those it had already installed, and replace them with the old ones.

But Maposa says the water agency defied the court order and continued to install new prepaid meters, including at his home.

Munyonga, the water agency official, says it would have been impractical to stop the programme because 2,843 prepaid water meters had been installed in Hwange, representing 96 percent of clients.

“The rollout of the meters is going ahead well, not only in Hwange, but in other parts of the country,” Munyonga says.

Justice Alfred Mavedzenge, a constitutional scholar and legal adviser at the Africa Regional Programme of the International Commission of Jurists, says the court order was a temporary relief order, which doesn’t stop the agency from installing prepaid meters.

As long as the matter has not been finalised, it can continue installing the meters, he says.

“Personally, however, I believe it is unlawful for Zinwa to install the prepaid meters without consulting the residents,” Mavedzenge says.

“Maposa and company in the meantime can appeal this interim order.”

But Maposa says he and other residents have no intention to go back to court and ask the judge to force the water agency to obey the order.

Instead, they have decided to request local authorities to engage the agency on their behalf to see how they can come up with a system that works for both parties.

Until then, Maposa says he must continue to monitor his tenants’ use of water.

He doesn’t like to because it’s exhausting and he doesn’t feel good about having to spy on his tenants. He laments his loss of humanity — that sense of care that makes communities share resources — and attributes it to the prepaid meters.

“In the event one has no money to buy water, it is difficult to ask for water from your neighbour because they also buy the water,” Maposa says.

“Before prepaid meters, as neighbours we would share water and at the end of the month, when the bill came, we would split the cost. Now that is not possible.”

So far, Maposa’s tenants don’t seem to mind him monitoring their water use.

As he speaks about how uncomfortable it makes him, one of his tenants walks by and overhears the conversation.

The tenant declines to give his name or to be interviewed at length, but he says he understands why his landlord has to be vigilant.

“It’s tricky,” he says, “but I guess he has to do that so that we are all accountable.” – Global Press Journal

Fortune Moyo is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

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Fear grips undocumented Zimbabwean workers in South Africa

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JOHANNESBURG -Zimbabwean domestic migrant worker Precious clocked in late for work, launched into her duties for a white South African family as if nothing happened, yet hours earlier she had been arrested for being in the country without papers.

South Africa — the continent’s most industrialised country — is buckling under a wave of illegal migration triggered by economic woes in its neighbours.

Many come from Malawi, Lesotho, but the majority are from Zimbabwe.

Lately police have scaled up crime-busting stop-and-search operations, including weeding out undocumented migrants.

One such early morning blitz was launched this week in Springs, a district at the eastern end of the largest city of Johannesburg.

Several dozen police officers mounted a check point on a narrow road, stopped cars and buses, meticulously searching boots and ordering occupants out, demanding identification documents.

Grabbed by the waist or arm, one-by-one they were led to the side of the road to a queue stretching out in front of immigration officers.

“These are weekly operations,” provincial police chief Elias Mawela, told AFP.

“When it’s confirmed they are illegal in the country they’ll be taken in and later on they’ll be taken to court… and back to their countries of origin”.

But in some raids, police officers solicit bribes to release the migrants.

The day Precious was arrested at a minibus taxi rank in downtown Johannesburg, she was one of 30 people bundled into a police van.

She was asked to pay 1,000 rands on the spot — equivalent to her weekly wages — or risk being taken to the police station for eventual deportation.

Precious immediately texted her employer warning she would be late and frantically called friends and associates to raise the bribe money.

‘Scared’

“I was scared,” said the single mother of two.

“It’s not good being a foreigner these days,” said Precious, 36, folding a pair a velvet pants she was ironing.

Official data lists an estimated 3.8 million migrants in South Africa, a figure considered a gross understatement.#photo2

Foreigners, especially those from the rest of Africa, are targets of xenophobic resentment and accused of taking jobs in a country where at least one in every three people is unemployed.

Zimbabwe has a long history of immigration into South Africa, dating back to the 19th century when the gold rush saw mining companies hiring labour across the borders.

In 2009 Pretoria granted four-year work visas to around 250,000 Zimbabweans fleeing economic and political turmoil at home. The permits have since then been repeatedly renewed, but authorities have vowed they will not be extended beyond June 2023.

But many more Zimbabweans have continued to pour into South Africa illegally through porous borders in search of greener pastures.

The huge influx of foreigners has irked many South Africans who accuse them of taking their jobs and placing undue pressure on public facilities.

Recently an anti-immigration group of activists picketed outside a public hospital west of Pretoria — blocking patients they suspected were foreigners, accusing them of putting the public health sector under strain.

Their action followed a viral video of provincial health minister berating a Zimbabwean patient, accusing her of seeking free treatment at a government hospital at the expense of South Africans.

Domestic worker Precious recalls giving birth to her now 11-year-old son at a public hospital in Zimbabwe.

“There is nothing there, not even water to wash the baby when he’s born. No painkillers,” she said.

Asked about some of his bribe-taking officers in a country dogged with high crime levels and endemic corruption, police commissioner Mawela urged anyone who is asked for a bribe “to bring it to our attention so we can investigate it”.

“We can’t just take it lightly these accusations”.   – AFP

 

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