Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
GOVERNMENT has directed workers in the transport sector, including commuter omnibus drivers and conductors, to register with the National Social Security Authority (Nssa) as part of social protection measures being adopted to cater for them when they reach retirement age.

This is part of a robust social protection system that Government is adopting as it realises that informal sector players miss out on cushioning grants when they reach retirement age.
By law, every employee in formal employment should be registered with Nssa, have the requisite contributions and premiums paid for them to Nssa and be able to benefit from the National Pension Fund and Workers’ Compensation Fund when they retire or are injured in a work-related accident.

Already, Government is remodelling and professionalising the transport sector which has seen all commuter omnibuses (kombis) operating in the cities now required to join the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company ambit.

The new measures can also address unfair labour practices that are common in the sector where drivers and conductors can be fired willy-nilly without any recourse.

The Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Ministry through Nssa and the Transport and Infrastructural Development Ministry have rolled out the programme to ensure that players in the transport sector are registered with Nssa, as a prerequisite for operating licences.

“Following a new policy directive to enhance safety and social security of the employees in this sector, the National Social Security Authority (Nssa) in partnership with the Transport and Infrastructure Development would like to advise all public and commercial road transport operators, that they are now required to be holders of a valid Nssa Clearance Certificate prior to the renewal of application of an operating transport permit or licence,” read a statement.

“All public and commercial road transport operators are therefore mandated to regularise their standing with Nssa to avoid delays in the issuance of their licences by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development.”

Some kombi drivers said the scheme will be welcome if it assists them to get treatment when they are involved in accidents.

Others felt they needed more information on how it works.

A kombi driver, Mr Zenzo Nkomo, who plies the Bulawayo-Nkayi road said they operate using verbal contracts with the main focus of their duties being to meet the employer’s targets.

“I don’t know much about these pension contributions. We are just drivers and as you might know, there is no job security in this sector. Today I might drive this kombi but I can lose the job whenever I have differences with my employer. We have to meet the employer’s targets and failure to do so can cost one a job. So, we have to do whatever is necessary to remain on the job as it has become more difficult to get another job considering that urban kombis were banned,” said Mr Nkomo.

Speaking on the development, Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Professor Paul Mavima said it was Government’s intention that players in the informal sector fall under a pension scheme.

“We are pushing to make sure that all business operators in Zimbabwe, formal or non-formal, should register with Nssa. We are building a very sustainable social protection system and we do not want to leave any Zimbabwean behind. Everyone is going to get into old age one day and they want to be prepared for that. This is why transport operators, kombi operators should register so that whoever they are employing should contribute to Nssa and in their old age they can also benefit from this social protection system that we are working so hard to ensure that its viable and sustainable,” said Prof Mavima.

He said Nssa is involved in several investment projects to make the pension fund viable to the benefit of contributors.

Prof Mavima said economic stability will also be crucial in making the pension scheme sustainable, especially noting that previously the public lost savings due to unstable economic environment.

“We have received actuarial reports, we have given indications about what we have to do to keep it viable and sustainable. In terms of contribution levels and in terms of investments that we should embark on. We are emphasising on investments retaining value. For example, Nssa has an international investment portfolio that brings in foreign currency. But our actuarialists have indicated that if we invest in horticulture, for example in the production of macadamia nuts and we manage it properly we will also export that product,” he said.

Development practitioner and National University of Science and Technology (Nust) Institute of Development Studies lecturer Dr Nqobizitha Dube said joining pension schemes, will be ideal for players in the informal sector.

But he observed that the programme’s implementation presents challenges for informal sector players due to their irregular incomes.

“It is always ideal to be protected by social security agencies such as Nssa but this always requires regular payments that one can plan for. Unfortunately, this is not the case for most informal sector participants whose income is highly irregular. It would be better to push for social security through the already existing transport unions or groupings.

They know how to best organise themselves. Also, drivers are the employees and the owner of the vehicle rarely drives it,” said Dr Dube.

“The contractual arrangements between owner and driver are rarely that formal. Also, because the drivers are the employees, such a plea should be coming from the drivers and not being pushed to owners or entrepreneurs.”

He said if it not properly managed it would result in reduction of incomes for employees in the sector.

Dr Dube said the erosion of savings is another issue that Government needs to address before aiming to attract players in the sector to contribute to a pension fund.

“Erosion of incomes is still fresh but once the employees are formally employed with contracts, they become part of Nssa. Government has to show the advantages of this and also show that we have career drivers and conductors in the public transport system run by private players. Also, what happens when the owner drives his own car?” asked Dr Dube. — @nqotshili