MUTARE– A series of unrelated strikes have hit underperforming industries, operating below 20% capacity utilisation, in the eastern region amid reports of rampant human rights violations.
Workers of the National Railways of Zimbabwe, Mbada Diamonds and Green Fuels have resorted to industrial action over unpaid salaries, deteriorating conditions of service and general neglect of workers welfare.
In a snap survey conducted by 263Chat, workers of the affected companies accuse management of turning a blind eye to their plights. Some have gone for a year without salaries.
This industrial action has paralysed operations at its Chisumbanje plant, with an annual capacity to produce 120 million liters of high quality, anhydrous ethanol, as well as generate 18 megawatts of electricity.
Green Fuel, a joint venture between the government controlled Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (Arda) and private companies, Macdom and Rating Investments owned by business tycoon Billy Rautenbach, has also been reeling from low productivity following heavy rains which socked its estates and made harvesting difficult.
Government has since been forced to reduce mandatory ethanol blending from 10 percent to 5 percent, thereby affecting its revenue inflows.
Arda and Green Fuel Chairman Basil Nyabadza confirmed the developments in a telephone interviews but said he could not provide much information referring all questions to Green Fuels management.
“With all due respect I cannot comment on this issue, get hold of Green Fuels who are on the ground they can give you more details,” he said.
However, reports from Chisumbanje indicate that Green Fuel employs about 4,500 workers, but most are on an extended annual break following heavy rains early this year.
The strike by 500 workers at the plant follows another by 116 contracted sugarcane out-growers who last week protested at the company after going for three years without payment. The farmers were owed $150,000, but have since agreed to a phased payment plan with the firm.
The workers entered into the third week of the industrial action demanding answers from management over eleven months unpaid salaries.
NRZ, operating at a deficit sits on a 100 million debt inclusive of wages and has failed to remit revenue to fiscus, as well as defaulted on statutory contributions for workers, pension fund and social security.
Like most government parastatals NRZ faces viability challenges owing to the liquidity crunch, low capacity utilisation in industry as well as poor management. At its peak it used to employ over 8,000 workers but this number has dwindled to less than half this figure over the years.
Officials claim the national carrier needs around $10 billion in capital injection to rehabilitate its railways systems as well as settle its outstanding wage bill.
The workers have gone for 10 months to date without receiving their salaries despite promises to address the issue by management led by acting Manager Lewis Mukwada.
NRZ which is operating at a deficit sits on a 100 million debt inclusive of wages and has not been remitting revenue to fiscus on top of defaulting on statutory contributions for workers, pension fund and social security.
In Marange diamond fields a labor union representing workers is also up in arms with Mbada Diamond management for summarily dismissing of 240 workers.
Mbada, a joint venture between South Africa’s New Reclamation Group-owned Grandwell Holdings and government’s mining investment vehicle Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, served termination letters to 159 workers, while several others were dragged to hearings.
Zimbabwe Diamond Workers Union, which represents 400 workers in the diamond industry, said it will challenge dismissals after 159 workers appealed for its services.
ZDMWU secretary general Justice Chinhema said Mbada officials were blocking them from representing its members.
“We are shocked and very angry with Mbada Diamonds, they pushed workers to do an illegal strike and now claim to be victims,” he added, “This is unlawful, we have to challenge all this and we are ready to fight Mbada. Already 159 workers have come to us for representation.”
Chinhema said Mbada management had initially sent workers home last Saturday with instructions to attend disciplinary hearings on Monday, but terminated contracts after realising that they had not followed the law.
“The issue started on Saturday when we head that workers had stopped work and we drove to the fields and we were denied entrance.
“We soon learnt that that management had ordered all workers to board buses and lorries with immediate effect and come back for hearings on Monday 10 am. All workers were sent out,” he said.
“Since we were told that there would be hearings on Monday we phoned the HR Manager Albert Zindi that we had come to represent our members on the hearing.
“He denied us entrance and told us apply to their head office for permit and we strongly argued stating that their head office was closed because they (management) had run away from workers camped at their offices.
“We further argued that the hearings they intended to do were unlawful because the 3 days notice to attend hearing was not enough, it violates workers’ right. Further the workers have a right to be represented by a workers union of their choice, a right which has been taken away from them.”
Mbada officials are reportedly operating from home after abandoning their offices in the capital in fear of ex-employees who besieged the premises for the past two months.
Read part of the termination letters signed by Zindi, “Please be advised that the corporate will not be renewing your contract of employment upon its expiry on the 30th of June 2015.
“The corporate hereby undertakes to pay all outstanding payments due to you on a monthly basis spreading over a period of four months through the corporate’s payroll until all such is extinguished in full.”
According to the letter employees will only know how much they will get on July 6 2015 when a statement of accounts will be released by management.
Efforts to get hold of Mbada management at the time of going to press were fruitless as they were unreachable.
The workers, who earn an average $250 per month, after their salaries were slashed by 50 percent last June, received between $200 and $400, each, in April ZDMWU said.