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
Schools improvement grant improving the quality of learning in Hwange
By Wilson Mareya & John Mokwetsi
Without the School Improvement Grant (SIG), learners at Nyongolo Primary School in Hwange District would not be celebrating the provision of textbooks, teaching material, classroom furniture, and a good learning environment.
Nyongolo Primary School is a registered rural school located about 340 km from Zimbabwe’s second-biggest city, Bulawayo. The school is a few metres from the Hwange-Victoria Falls highway and has 5 classrooms and 272 learners (147 females and 125 males). Hwange District is primarily a mining district. Large coal deposits are found in the district, and several large coal mines are located there. Despite being mineral-rich, the locals survive on menial jobs, with most not affording to buy their children basic education needs. Most learners live within a radius of 10km from the school.
Nyongolo is one of the beneficiaries of the School Improvement Grant (SIG) Regular programme made possible thanks to funding from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The grant aims to support financially constrained schools with resources to meet their minimum functionality standards. FCDO supports the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education initiatives towards improving the quality of education for all children, especially the vulnerable and disadvantaged, with UNICEF managing the funds and providing technical support.The school head, Nokuthula Ndebele, is ecstatic when she speaks of the benefits of SIG: “Textbooks have come as a game changer for our pupils. We used to have acute shortages of textbooks, where the school could only afford one textbook for the whole class. For the Ndebele language, the school did not have any textbooks for grades 6 and 7. With the funds available to purchase more textbooks and teaching materials, the learners gain motivation and interest in learning as each learner has their textbook for most of the subjects.”
She added that for the Ndebele language in 2022, the school posted impressive Grade 7 results, with 24 out of 34 learners having passed.
“We expect this success to be replicated in all other subjects in 2023. The quality of learning is surely improving. Our school had many non-readers when I took over as head in 2021. Now there is a significant improvement. With access to textbooks, the reading culture is improving,” Ndebele revealed the positive impact.
For schools like Nyongolo, where several learners were non-readers, SIG has been a critical pillar in supporting foundational literacy.
Ndebele added: “SIG is the most contributor towards the school’s existence; I don’t know what we would have done without SIG. The school would probably not exist anymore. The levies and fees are too low to support the school. With the last grant, we purchased 16 single desks, 18 chairs and 24 textbooks, and our classrooms are now looking the way a classroom should look.”
Most desks and chairs are stacked at the back of the classroom as schools have closed for the third term holiday.
The school’s School Development Association (SDA) chairperson, Joseph Ndlovu, said of the support: “Before the intervention of UNICEF, our school did not have enough textbooks. Children sat on combined desks and chairs, which made social distancing impossible during Covid. Now a larger proportion of the learners have single desks and chairs. The community is quite happy with the improvements at the school.”
He added that the school and the parents could not afford textbooks and suitable furniture for every learner.
“The school could only afford to buy a single textbook per class for the teacher. We are glad for the support we receive from UNICEF and the Ministry (of Primary and Secondary Education). Now for most subjects, each learner has their own textbook, and the children are happy”, said Joseph.
The support given to schools has positively impacted schooling in many financially constrained schools in Zimbabwe. Dreams of a brighter future are being kept alive in these poor communities.
Ndebele spoke of the challenges.
“The challenge is still on subjects like PE and ICT where we have one textbook for the whole class in some classes. We also do not have enough classrooms for our learners. If the district approves our application for Complementary Funding, we plan to renovate and complete a classroom unit for ECD.”
In early December, the school applied to the District Education for UNICEF-supported complementary funding to support the school’s infrastructure development. The school aims to renovate and complete a big classroom unit for ECD and provide an appropriate and enabling learning environment for the infants.
The school head hopes to get support from the School Improvement Grant component of Complementary Funding from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) – where schools get funding to renovate, rehabilitate or complete existing school structures such as science laboratories, classrooms or hygiene-friendly toilets for the learners. She is also hoping for continued support so the school can purchase suitable furniture for infants and purchase more textbooks for subjects like (Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Physical Education (PE).SOURCE:UNICEF
Zimbabwean women are reduced to cheerleaders in the upcoming election, activists say
BY FARAI MATSAKA
In a large hall at the headquarters of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, women responded with roaring cheers when President Emmerson Mnangagwa described them as the party’s “backbone” whose votes are vital to victory in elections scheduled for August.
At a recent opposition rally, women with the face of their male party leader emblazoned on dresses and skirts sang, danced and promised to vote for change — never mind that the election again represents a status quo where women are largely limited to cheerleading.
It appears worse this year because the number of women candidates has plummeted, despite women constituting the majority of the population and, traditionally, the biggest number of voters.
“We have some of the best laws and policies on gender equality and women representation, but that’s just on paper. The reality on the ground is that the role of women in politics is restricted to being fervent supporters and dependable voters,” said Marufu Mandevere, a human rights lawyer in the capital, Harare.
The shortage of women candidates puts Zimbabwe at odds with trends on the continent. According to a report released in March by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the number of women in national parliaments in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 10% in 1995 to about 27% in 2022. The IPU describes itself as a global organization of national parliaments established in 1889.
In Zimbabwe, a patriarchal southern African nation of 15 million people, gender-based biases are still rampant. Men have historically dominated the political, economic, religious and social spheres. The Aug. 23 election suggests that change could be beyond the horizon, despite vigorous local campaigns and global pressure for increased female participation in decision-making.
Zimbabwe’s controversial new Patriotic Bill just about ‘loving your country”, says minister
BY CITY PRESS
The heavily criticised Patriotic Bill, which was passed by Zimbabwe’s Parliament recently to clamp down on “subverting government”, is not meant to suppress freedom of expression.
This is according to Monica Mutsvangwa, the country’s minister of information, publicity and broadcasting services, who spoke to City Press in Randburg on Friday.Mutsvangwa said the passing into law of the controversial legislation, legally known as the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill, was meant to deal with citizens conspiring with outsiders to overthrow the government and campaigning for sanctions. The bill, which was passed on June 7, has been heavily criticised by civil society organisations, including Amnesty International.
Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, said earlier this month that the bill’s passing by the Senate was deeply concerning and signalled a disturbing crackdown on Zimbabweans’ rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.Mwangovya said the weaponisation of the law was a desperate and patent move to curtail the rights of freedom of expression and to public participation in elections next month.
But Mutsvangwa was adamant this was not the case, insisting that the intention of the new law was to “promote patriotism”.
“I don’t accept that it is controversial. It’s okay for people to talk [about it]. That’s freedom of expression,” Mutsvangwa said.
She said Zimbabwe could not promote the subversion of a constitutional government.
Some of the amendments in the bill include:
Criminalising any citizen caught “wilfully injuring Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, dignity and independence as a nation. ”
Criminalising those who participate in meetings with the intention to promote, advance, encourage, instigate or advocate sanctions or trade boycotts against the country.
The death penalty for those perceived to have colluded to unseat government, including individuals acting as agents or proxies to such entities.
Under the new law, those found guilty of being unpatriotic will face up to 10 years in prison or a fine. They also risk having their citizenship revoked or their permanent resident status, cancelled. They will be banned from voting and occupying public office.
However, Mutsvangwa said the aspects dealing with jail sentences would be left to the judiciary.
“People who talk about it [the bill] as being controversial; I’d like to understand what it is they are saying. Is it good to cooperate with people planning subversion of the constitutionally elected government? Is it good to cooperate with people who are planning a coup? Is that correct? No,” Mutsvangwa said.
She said the citizens were allowed to criticise President Emmerson Mnangagwa.he president. That is why we have 11 candidates who filed papers to be presidential candidates. How would they run if they were not allowed?”
But she said as long they were not promoting armed intervention and subversion of government; they would be allowed to contest the elections.
The citizens, Mutsvangwa said, must be factual in their utterances and not plant misinformation and disinformation because they wanted to get money.
“That won’t help the country,” she said.
She claimed that there had been cases in which citizens would bad-mouth government because they wanted to get “brown envelopes”, implying that people were being paid to criticise the regime.
“That has happened, which is a pity. We should not be thinking like that as Africans. We need to love our countries. There are people who think there’s something wrong with being patriotic.”
Being unpatriotic included negative remarks about the scarf that Mnangagwa always wears, which is branded with Zimbabwe’s flag.
“But I say, this is our flag. Why are we not proud of our own flag? I was a diplomat in the US. I lived in an exclusive area. Every house in the US had a flag flying. There’s nothing wrong with loving your country.”
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, she said, was functioning well and the preparations for next month’s polls were going smoothly.
Mutsvangwa added that this was evident following submissions made by the 11 presidential candidates during the nominations on Wednesday last week.
“That shows democracy on display. I don’t know how many political parties participated [in that process]. I don’t have the number. But the place was alive with all different kinds of people [making their submissions].”
The minister said opposition parties would be treated equally in these elections, adding that government had opened the airways by introducing other television channels.
“This means there is a wider choice for everyone who wants to go out and send their messages [to the voters]. We also feel it’s important that the people of Zimbabwe choose who they want to lead them from the information [they get].
“So, this is in everybody’s interest to say that whoever put their papers for nomination is that [the right] person so that the people vote from a position of knowledge,” she said.
But Zimbabweans would only be allowed to vote in the areas where they had been registered.
“The Electoral Act talks about polling station-based voting. So, if there are Zimbabweans here [in South Africa] who are registered back in their communities, they are free to go [home] and vote.”The minister said they were prepared to deal with those returning home and wanted to vote in their respective areas where they were registered.
NO MORE NO-GO AREAS
Mutsvangwa said government was implementing recommendations made by the Kgalema Motlanthe commission of inquiry, which investigated the circumstances that led to the 2018 post-election violence.
The recommendations included that political parties be registered to ensure accountability and a review of the laws relating to hate speech, abuse of cyberspace and inciting violence.
Since 2018, government had been working on those recommendations, Mutsvangwa said, adding that the upcoming elections would be open to foreign observers.
“They are free to come. We’ve got nothing to hide.”
She said Zimbabwe had been using the national broadcaster, ZBC, for 42 years for its messaging. But Mnangagwa had said that there must be media reforms.
She said the president had told her that there was a need to diversify to allow Zimbabweans access to a variety of media content. As a result, licences had been granted to six commercial television stations in Zimbabwe.
“These were given through the proper processes. Some of the media houses that were considered opposition or anti-government have been given licences.
“They are operating now. We’ve done a lot of opening [of the airwaves] to show the world that we have nothing to hide,” she said, adding that 14 community radio stations had been granted licences. It’s a big game charger. We’ve managed to bring on board all Zimbabweans who were marginalised, who’ve never felt they were part of Zimbabwe.”
Zimbabwe was removing the polarisation that had hampered their communities, she added.
‘EXPATS COME HOME’
Mutsvangwa said they were rebuilding the country’s economy amid crippling sanctions imposed on Robert Mugabe’s government due in retaliation to the land reform policies.
She said the serious brain drain over the years and skills shortage were affecting the economy.
Mutsvangwa said lessons had been learnt and Mnangagwa was consulting on the interventions to end sanctions.
She said there had been several infrastructural developments and the discovery of oil in the northern part of the country would require engineers, who had left the country to seek employment elsewhere, to return.
Her government respected South Africa’s decision to extend special Zimbabwe exemption permits for their nationals until the end of this year.
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