Who is defined as an elderly worker?
Elderly workers include those workers who, despite having reached retirement age (60 or 65 years), continue to provide service to an employer, usually under “special” conditions.
In the agricultural sector, for example, these workers constitute a special group of workers who also include those with physical and mental disabilities and who are employed to do some of the work normally done by able-bodied employees.
However, there are several weaknesses in defining “elderly workers” in terms of the legal age of retirement, as it may be difficult to ascertain the ages of some workers who are foreign immigrants and may not have national identification papers. In such cases employers estimate age from the physical appearance of the worker.
What challenges do elderly workers face in their daily working lives?
Sometimes employers, especially farmers, force their workers to retire prematurely in order to reduce their wage bills. The same workers are then rehired as “special” workers, earning very low wages. Since the prospect of a better life after retirement are remote, most of these workers continue working to escape destitution. As one worker, Adzivanji Phiri says: “ I don’t want to retire because I know of the predicament that lies ahead. I have nowhere to go after retirement. I have no home, no relatives or children. I prefer to work than retire and become destitute.”
Lack of post-retirement security also induces some of workers to understate their ages in order to postpone retirement. Work on farms can also be hazardous given crammed living conditions in farm compounds, dangerous chemicals and lack of clean water and proper sanitation. These conditions are particularly detrimental to the health of the elderly. Injuries from farm machinery and pesticide poisoning, for example, are common in cases involving grading, tying and packing tobacco. During peak agricultural seasons the elderly are often asked to work with ordinary worker and do all sorts of work.
What benefits do elderly workers receive?
The majority of elderly workers on farms receive little or no benefits for services rendered to their employer. Retirement is particularly difficult for foreign workers as they do not have families or land to retire to. They often end up seeking refuge in old people’s homes and some end up becoming squatters. The union representing workers in the agricultural sector has failed to protect and promote the interests of elderly farm workers, who in turn are unable to maintain their subscriptions to the union. Some do not join union for fear of being victimised by the employer.
There are no active pension schemes being run on these farms. Where these existed before independence they were disrupted, and there is evidence of such schemes being “lost” after the original owners who were administering these schemes left the farms.
Are there any legal safeguards to protect elderly workers?
Elderly workers in the agricultural sector fall within the special group which comprises those with physical or mental disabilities, employed to do part of the work of able- bodied employees. The Labour Act does not cover this category of employees under different categories of employees specified in the Act.
Lack of financial security for old age has made the elderly worker vulnerable and they are afraid to complain about things like unsafe working conditions, poor housing, and long hours of work for fear of offending their employer.
In the mining industry, however, elder migrant workers are repatriated to their home countries at the end of their contracts.
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