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Coping Strategies Used by Minimum Wage Earners towards Basic Needs

Paschal Banga Nade
The study focused at identifying the coping strategies used by minimum wage earners in Dodoma Municipality in Tanzania. Structured interview was conducted to one hundred workers of both public and private companies’ employers. The sample comprised of four occupations which are drivers and office attendants for government employer and industrial workers and security guards for private employer. The amount of minimum wage paid to the workers was found insufficient to cater the basic needs such as food, housing, transport and education for children as a result workers cope with the deficit by engaging in urban agriculture, petty business, urban rural linkages and expenditure reduction strategy. Further analysis and recommendations has been clearly provided in this paper.
Key words; Minimum wage, Copping strategies, Basic needs
One of the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda is to sums up people’s aspirations for a full and productive employment that delivers a fair income; security in the workplace and social protection for families; better prospects for personal development and social integration; freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives; and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men (ILO, 2010). The income of the workers largely comes from their wages; the system of paying workers with wage which emerged after the rise of capitalism whereby the capitalists employed workers to produce goods in exchange for wages.  Instead of consuming or selling what they had made, workers received a wage in return for their labour. ILO has defined minimum wages as the lowest level of remuneration permitted or paid to the employees where in each country the force of law has and which is enforceable under threat of penal or other appropriate sanctions (ILO,2010).
 There are various methods that are used in setting minimum wage across countries. The methods range from government statutory decisions to negotiation of minimum wages through bilateral or tripartite agreements. According to Global Wage Report (2008/2009) importance of minimum wages are related to various economic and social developments.  Particularly, it was established due to the relative high economic growth  in many countries accompanied by an increase in the number of vulnerable workers, especially those in part-time, temporary or casual employment; and more jobs with low pay thus minimum wages were seen as an effective policy tool for addressing low pay and poverty.  Also widening income inequality in many countries, especially when stemming from deterioration in wages at the lower end of the scale, has led policy-makers to consider minimum wages as having the potential to limit income inequality.
In setting the amount of minimum wage the consideration is given to the fact that it serves the cost of basic needs. Morris  et al,.(2000) defined  Basic needs as the minimum specified quantities of such things as food, clothing, shelter, water and sanitation that are necessary to prevent ill health, malnourishment, early mortality.  Maslow theorized that all people are motivated to fulfil a hierarchy of needs. At the bottom of the hierarchy are basic physiological needs, such as hunger, thirst, and sleep. Further up the hierarchy are needs for safety and security, needs for belonging and love, and esteem-related needs for status and achievement. Once these needs are met, Maslow believed that, people strive for self-actualization ( Huitt, 2007).  Contextualizing to this study; adequate and nutritious food, shelter, transport and education for children were taken into consideration for analysis.
In Tanzania, the Minister for Labour, Employment and Youth Development, on 16th November 2007 published a Wage Order through Government Notice No. 223 of 2007 under the Employment and Labour Relations Act of 2004 for the payment of newly established 8 sect oral minimum wages with effect from 1st January 2008. In that wage order, minimum wage for each sector (ranging from 65,000/= the lowest to 350,000/= the highest) were clearly provided. However Human Rights Report (2008) has shown the amount is insufficient to cover the cost of basic human necessities. Further evidence has been shown for instance regular workers strikes between 2008-2010 organized by Trade Union Congress of Tanzania (TUCTA) whereby one of their major claims was that the minimum wage paid is very little to such an extent that they cannot access the basic needs.
The early analysis for minimum wages by Tripp's (1990) in Tanzanian have also shown that the average monthly income in the late 1980s would cover an urban household of six people for only three days.  According to the Household Budget Survey (HBS)  (2007) of Tanzania, the gap between food costs and urban wages has arisen not only because wages have fallen in real terms but also because there have been significant price rises for food items. This has largely been caused by the liberalization of the food trade, in line with IMF conditionality, in that food prices are no longer fixed by government decree and previous government subsidies have been removed. Elsewhere, Jamal and Weeks, (1993) noted that the minimum wages paid do not enable the workers to cover the necessary costs, such as housing and transport to work, or vital welfare expenditure on health, education, or clothing. Such findings have led the question of how these minimum wage earners survive in urban areas. Therefore it has triggered a need to identify the survival strategies for minimum wage earners in urban areas.
Coping Strategies adopted by minimum wage earners in urban areas
  Despite the modern nature of much of urban society in sub-Saharan Africa, the urban government workers and formal private sector workers have adopted a number of strategies in their attempts to access basic human needs with the changes in their economic circumstances (Amis, 1995).  One of the coping strategies involves an engagement in petty business which previously was only for the non-earning household members entering the petty commodity sector, but currently the minimum wage-earners are taking on as a coping strategy to cover the increasing urban living cost (Maliyamkono and Bagachwa, 1990).  (Kamete et al, (2001) noted that teachers and nurses in many countries of Africa opted to supplement miserable salaries by opening small shops, selling street foods, and so forth.  Diversification of activity requires devoting attention and time to a number of concerns in different places (Bangura,1994). This affects the quality of work and weakens the commitment of employees to the institutions they serve. The attention of low paid workers has been changed in favour of small businesses such as selling bites, clothes and other cheaper goods so as to meet their basic needs. This situation has led to inefficiency in their institutions they are working.
Foeken (2008) has noted that even though the rural poor today still outnumber the urban poor in absolute terms, the latter have been increasing in number at an alarming rate, a phenomenon commonly described as the ‘urbanization of poverty’. The increasing urbanization and growing poverty trends in Sub-Saharan Africa has meant that families have to consider alternative means of supplementing their diets and incomes. London- Lane (2004) observes that urban gardens have evolved rapidly with the increased rate of urbanization. The result is that urban agriculture as a practice is observed in almost every city of Sub-Saharan Africa. Kekana (2006) noted that farming in urban environments has been found to benefit poor households through direct savings on food purchases.  Barton (2000) maintains that urban agriculture is not a luxury but a necessity which arises from the need for solutions to a wide range of problems.  According to Mlozi (1999) urban farming has expanded enormously over the past two decades due to the economic crises in most African countries. He insisted that for the poor, food security is usually the main motivation for farming in town, and for some it is even a survival strategy. Urban agriculture is not only an important food source but provides a substantial income as well, both directly and indirectly. Many of the poor sell some of their produce, partly to be able to afford other basic household needs but also because some crops are perishable and cannot be stored and/or because storage space is not available. Mougeot (2005) has stated that there are basically two forces which drive people from all walks of life, particularly those on low incomes and the poor, to cultivate in urban areas: food security and income generation. According to Bangura (1994), Workers and civil servants in Africa, for example, are increasingly devoting a part of their time to farming on the outskirts of their towns, or in the countryside.
Strengthening and adaptation of the rural-urban linkages have always been an important part of urbanization processes in Sub-Saharan Africa (Potts and Mutambirwa, 1990). Tacoli (2004) stated that urban linkages include flows of agricultural and other commodities from rural based producers to urban markets, both for local consumers and for forwarding to regional, national and international markets; and, in the opposite direction, flows of manufactured and imported goods from urban centres to rural settlements; information flows, movement of people and financial flows. Urban dwellers, particularly the urban poor including workers who are paid minimum wage/ salary, maintain strong linkages with the rural areas as a survival strategy. According to Kamete and his fellows (2001) the poor urban dwellers maintain close links with their rural areas of origin, such links may first of all take the form of exchange of goods and services. Urban households typically send money or commodities to rural relatives or friends; including clothes, detergents, soap, tobacco, sugar, white flour, and imported goods. Rural households for their part may supply their urban relatives with foodstuffs (meat, staple grains and vegetables), home-made beverages, firewood and building material (Jamal and Weeks, 1993). As an economic survival strategy, urban-rural linkages have assumed new importance with rising urban poverty across most of Africa (O’Connor, 1991). The system of land tenure in most African countries also encourages strong links to rural areas specifically land accessibility (or ownership) in the rural areas by urban dwellers keeps them linked to these areas (Mabogunje, 2000; Lesetedi, 2003). However, remittances were also found to be an important link and source of income for a significant number of urban households as observed by many studies in years (Kessy, 2005). This was true of urban households of Harare, Lilongwe and Blantyre cities in 1988/89 only 17 per cent of households remitted to rural areas during a three-month period of study (Morris et al, 2000).
Nevertheless minimum wage earners have also adapted different behaviours in their working places for instance taking bribes or involving in corruption. According to Mutahaba, (2005) when an employee is paid a wage which is inadequate to meet basic needs and does not have the option of going out of the job, he/she will tend to adopt deviant work behaviour which could include strategies to supplement his income. Kamete et al, (2001) noted expenditure reduction strategy which include reducing total spending, changing dietary habits (by reducing the number of meals per day or buying cheaper and less nutritious food), and cutting back on the purchase of nonessential goods which in many cases may narrow the range of options for getting out of poverty for example walking as a means of transportation to search for work. AMREF, (2001)also noted  expenditure reduction and change of life style for the minimum wage earners which involved eating less and  eating only once per day and others opted the drinking of local alcohol and drug abuse  at Kibera in Kenya. Kruger, Schőnfeldt and Owen (2008) have identified two common food coping strategies; these were reliance on cheaper or less preferred food (chicken feet, pork and beef bones, cow, pig and goat heads and their internal edible organs diluted soya mince soup, and the second strategy is employment of food seeking strategies.
Descriptive design has been employed in this study whereby structured interview is chosen as interviewers are increasingly seen as active participants in interactions with respondents, and interviews are seen as negotiated accomplishments of both interviewers and respondents that are shaped by the contexts and situations in which they take place (Denzin, 2000) and also self- administered questionnaire was chosen as data collection technique. Four occupations of workers with the lowest minimum wage earners were purposively selected from the TUCTAs directory of workers. The selection was made from two major employers which are government and private employers. A hundred (100) workers were randomly selected as sample size and each individual in the sample size was purposively selected with the major selection criterion being a minimum wage earner. The occupations selected were security guards, industrial workers from formal private sector and office attendants and drivers from the public sector and for each occupation mentioned a total of 25 formal workers were selected purposefully. Data were descriptively analysed and graded in by per cents.
Case study
The study was conducted in Dodoma Municipality as the case study in 2011. Dodoma Municipality covers an area of 2,669 square kilometres of which 625 square kilometres are urbanized. Based on the 2002 National Population and Housing Census, the population of Dodoma Municipalities was 324,347 people of whom 157,469 or 48.5 per cent were males and 166,878, or 51.5 per cent were females. The estimated total number of households was 74,914 with an average household size of 4.3 people. The municipality of Dodoma is subdivided into 4 Divisions which in turn are divided into 30 wards and 42 streets. Dodoma is Located at 6°10′23″S 35°44′31″E and 6.1730º6S35.74194ºE Coordinates in the centre of the country. The main economic activities of the people of the Dodoma Municipality include agriculture, business, wine processing and arts/crafts (URT, 2003). The choice of the selected area of study considered the factor that development of Dodoma Municipality as the capital city of Tanzania is accompanied by an increased employment of workers in both government and private sectors. Also rapid expansion of the Dodoma urban area has contributed to the choice of the area.
Results and Discussion
Respondents Background
In Tanzania, education level of a worker determines the amount of the wage paid respectively. It has been observed that the occupations such as engineering, medicine, accounting and some managerial occupations which demand at least degree level of education graduates are better paid compared to other occupations of the same level of education though other factors such as income of the employer may count. Among the four occupations under the study, no one has attained tertiary level of education. The data indicates that majority attained only primary level of education and few attended secondary and technical colleges as shown in table 1. This has implication on the type of job they do as it doesn’t require specialized/professional skills which are offered by the institution of higher education levels. In other words their occupations are limited to manual works rather than sophisticated skills.
Without forgetting the extended families in African culture which sometime increase the socio-economic burden to a worker, this study has focused in identifying the dependence level only by looking at the number of children per worker for the matter of comparing it with the wages paid to them. The number of workers who have children goes beyond fifty per cent of all the workers in each group of occupations and the number even went up to eighty per cent for drivers’ occupation as shown in table 2. Considering the fact that the average total birth per woman is above four children in Tanzania, therefore it is possible for those workers in average to have more than one child thus entitled to socio- economic dependence/burden.
As explained in the introduction section that it’s the wage board which is responsible for setting the amount of minimum wages. The process of setting the amount is accomplished by the announcement which is done by minister responsible under the Tanzania wage act of 2004. The researcher was interested to ascertain the real amount that the workers received on monthly basis. The findings shows that amount of minimum wage paid vary between public sector and private sector. It ranges from 65000tsh to 100000tsh for private sector and 100000tsh to 300000tsh for public sector as shown in table 3. This implies that the minimum wage for public sector is better by difference of 40000tsh. This differences in minimum wage as per sector is ignoring the fact that living cost for instance in urban areas such as Dodoma Municipality affect all the workers regardless of the sector employed to.
The implication of wages on accessing some of basic needs has been determined. The basic needs items that were assessed include food, housing, education and transport as shown in table 4. It has been the practice and common across many culture   in Tanzania that the eating patterns involve 3 times per day; breakfast, lunch and dinner. But the findings show that twenty one per cent of all the workers eat once per day as a result of insufficient fund. With regard to house ownership without considering the quality of housing, the data show that its only twenty six per cent that own housing and the rest are forced to live in rented rooms in which their associated cost are paid monthly. If you look at table 5, for those who rented rooms fifty per cent live in single room whose price range from ten 10000-30000Tsh. depending on its quality. This implies that almost half of their wages go to renting and for those who have children the conditions is certainly congested and diver stating.
Although the work station distance depend on the place where a worker lives but the interest of the researcher was on the type of means of transport that are used by minimum wage earners. The data shows that forty eight per cent of the workers go to their work station on foot. Though distance was not assessed but the decision to use foot for transport has been largely associated with shortage of transport fair because the public transport is not much improved to the extent that workers may opt as their favourite choice. Lastly, affordability of school fees for those workers who’s their children have reached the age of schooling has been also assessed. The findings depict that its only thirty five per cent who can afford to pay the school fees. This situation has implication on enrolment levels for various levels of education in education system of Tanzania
Having noted that the amount paid could not cover the basic needs such as food housing and transport, the coping strategies used by such workers were identified. The workers who were interviewed engaged in urban agriculture, small/petty business, urban rural linkages and expenditure reduction strategies. Urban agriculture is the leading strategy for all four groups of workers where vegetable is the leading type followed by food crops such as maize and beans. These strategies helped them to provide food and few of them sell supplement   to cater other services. Urban rural linkage is second strategy in number, the interview session show that majority of workers have origin in rural areas and maintained the ties with them. Within such linkages others have grown food crops in rural areas, others are getting remittances/gifts in terms of kinds and others are doing business with rural people as shown in table 6. Expenditure reduction especially cutting down the regular frequencies to even one per day, though they express the pain they are getting but they explained that they have no other alternative.
A gap between the amount of minimum wage paid and cost of accessing basic needs has been noted.  The coping strategies opted by the workers such as reduction strategy go against ILO decent work agenda as it affect the health of the workers. In the long run the production of those employers is attributed to decline. Grounds of setting the minimum wages and its implementation strategy did not consider the life condition of these workers. The minimum wages that are paid can’t sustain the worker for even ten days. Therefore such amounts paid leave the workers in very miserable conditions and as a result these people will remain in the extreme poverty enormously. Urban agriculture is not the strategy to relay on for these workers since such pieces of land are not  safe and unsecured but also due to increasing urbanization which is unplanned, their gardens and pieces of land is susceptible to grabbing.
Wider scope of analysis is needed in setting the amount of minimum wages because the existing amount set is not realistic. The impact of amount that is not realistic includes workers strikes, theft, corruption, absence from work and low morale in production. Such impacts are economically expensive in terms of production thus employers are encouraged to accept and adopt the amount that will keep their workers in decent condition.
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