A few years ago, flamboyant businessman Philip Chiyangwa sparked a major furore after he paid his workers at G&D Shoes their severance packages in the form of pairs of shoes.
There was a method to the madness.
G&D was illiquid and unable to pay its salaries in real dollars. To get around the predicament, its proprietor saw no harm in paying his workers with the company’s manufactured product — shoes.
Last year, Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL) also raised a lot of dust after it emerged in the National Assembly that the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed concern was giving its workers bricks for resale so they could raise their salaries.
At the time, HCCL had accumulated a huge salary backlog dating back to three years.
This trend has now spilled to churches.
Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Ministries leader Walter Magaya has divided opinion among labour experts by paying those who volunteer their services to the church in the form of “blessings”.
Founded in 2012, the church does not employ permanent staff nor contract workers. Its parishioners volunteer their services for free in their areas of speciality for which they are given blessings by the man of cloth as a thank you.
Resources permitting, the charismatic prophet acknowledges their efforts by giving them cash or goodies. Because the money is not fixed, it varies from month to month.
In a bad month, the volunteers may not even receive the “blessings”.
The “blessings” have become a sore point among some of the volunteers in PHD Ministries who are jobless and solely rely on them to make ends meet, including paying for their rentals.
A volunteer driver at PHD is currently at loggerheads with his landlord after accumulating arrears to the tune of $350.
The driver is renting a core house in the high-density suburb of Mabvuku for $140 and is depended on the “blessings” to get by.
The dispute over rental has since spilled to the Rent Board, where she offered to pay $30 a month in order to clear the arrears, plus her monthly rentals.
Her landlord, Ephrone Motsi, has written to Magaya several times, pleading with him to rescue his congregant as she is desperately in need of the rental income to pay for her father’s medical bills.
In another case, one of the volunteer videographers was evicted from his rented house in Highfield due to failure to honour his commitments.
Magaya could not be reached for comment at the time of going to print.
His lawyer, Everson Chatambudza, said referred the Daily News to PHD’s overseer, Admire Mango, who was unavailable for comment.
Said Chatambudza: “I only know that there are volunteers who help with work at the church . . . you can get the correct information from overseer Admire Mango otherwise I will mislead you”.
Labour lawyers are divided over the payment for services in blessings.
Labour law expert Caleb Mucheche said the non-existence of a contract does not mean that there is no employment relationship between the church and the volunteer.
“And if that relationship is terminated, then someone will be liable for compensation or terminal benefits according to the law,” said Mucheche.
“The law does not apparently recognise anything called a volunteer unless someone just comes and offers services not expecting to get paid. But when someone is continuously rendering services there will be an expectation of getting remuneration. The issue of volunteer work cannot be of a continuous nature. How then does one survive?”
A blessing, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is “the act or words of one that blesses,” or “a thing conducive to happiness or welfare”.
God’s intention and desire to bless humanity is a central focus of his covenant relationships.
For this reason, the concept of blessing pervades the biblical record.
Two distinct ideas are present.
First, a blessing was a public declaration of a favoured status with God.
Second, the blessing endowed power for prosperity and success.
In all cases, the blessing served as a guide and motivation to pursue a course of life within the blessing.
God is not the only one who pronounces blessings, which means even prophets can pronounce blessings as well.
Another labour law expert, Lawman Chimuriwo, said the crux of the matter was in the nature of the agreement between parties.
“We are looking at two things; the first issue is whether there is a contract so that we can ascertain whether the workers have rights of employees. However, an employer has duties and one of them is to remunerate workers. Section 61 of the Labour Act says no employer should pay less than what is provided for as a standard by law or by agreement. There is, however, a difference in how people should be paid under common law and under statute,” said Chimuriwo.
“If it’s volunteer work, the law actually allows that. Well this is religion, maybe they should be a body that protects congregants,” he added.
In an environment where unemployment is in excess of 80 percent and the majority of the country’s citizens are living on less than $1 a day, to a lot of jobless half a loaf is better than nothing.
To survive the turbulent economic environment, it has become important for institutions to watch their labour costs, and it would appear that Magaya’s model is that of utilising the services of volunteers to escape contractual obligations.
His admirers are astounded by what he has achieved since 2012 when he founded his PHD ministries.
PHD now boasts of a global following, a hotel, football team, real estate and even a WhatsApp application that can distinguish between fake or real news.