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Abusive conditions in Chinese-run mine

IN the periphery of Hwange mining town as one heads towards Victoria Falls is South Mining, a Chinese owned, coking coal producer.

The company supplies ferro-alloy, copper and cement producers in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The management at the company is a mixture of Chinese and Zimbabwean nationals, a norm in almost all Chinese investments in Hwange.

The workers say their rights as employees are being trampled on as they are insulted, shouted at, assaulted and summarily dismissed for questioning authority.

They argue that the lack of PPE is exposing them to various occupational hazards.

“Workers don’t have rights,” said one employee who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“If you try to speak up you are dismissed. Workers work abnormal hours. Sometimes a job that is supposed to be done by a machine is done by humans. If you are injured, you are dismissed from work. Workers work under threats, sometimes we are beaten by the Chinese bosses.”

Despite working long hours under harsh conditions, they receive paltry salaries.

“This company is rich. They don’t sell their coke on credit. Look at the Issue of gratuity, workers demand to be given their gratuity because if you get dismissed you have high chances of not getting your benefits even after serving them for 10 years,” said another employee.

An August 2021 payslip seen by this publication revealed that some employees earn as little as ZWL13 213.59 or US$126.80.

“What they did after the National Employment Council (NEC) rate increment they used another trick. They just removed the RTGS component and converted to United States dollars. A worker is now earning like US$150 in RTGS its now less.”

Workers unions like the Zimbabwe Diamond Allied Minerals Workers Union (ZDAMWU) and National Mines Workers Union of Zimbabwe (NMWUZ) have tried to engage the company to address the workers’ concerns but not much has changed.

“I cannot say there is change, because even if the (NEC) makes some increments, the company will tax the salary which is not supposed to be taxed. For example, if NEC says RTGS$30 000 is tax-free but the company will tax that money,” said another employee.

CITE also learnt that South Mining was deducting the union dues from their employees’ salaries but not remitting the money to the respective unions.

When reached for comment NMWUZ Hwange Chapter Paralegal Officer Kevin Mawoyo said the company is owing employee remittances from September 2019 to date.

“It was going to be an excuse to them if they were not deducting our member’s trade union dues but in this case they are actually deducting. Their actions, therefore, imply that they are defrauding us as a union and the law should take its course. Besides non-remittance of trade union dues they also terminated employment contracts of our members before they had expired and immediately replaced them with other employees they have since recruited,” said Mawoyo.

Mawoyo is currently representing four former employees who had their contracts terminated.

“Concerning the matter of the four guys whom I will not mention for reasons that information I have is that these Chinese companies tend to black list employees if publicised negatively to an extent that they will not secure alternative employment elsewhere under another Chinese company, we are proceeding to take the matter for conciliation. The matter is going to be heard by a designated agent of NEC for the Mining Industry. The company grossly erred in the manner they terminated our members contracts of employment,” explains Mawoyo.

“In the case I am pursuing I am claiming unlawful termination of employment contracts, non-payment of back pays, gratuity and terminal benefits and underpayment of wages. The employer also violated the CBA provisions under the mining industry,” adds Mawoyo.

The NMWUZ engaged the management towards the end of last year and only the issue of pay day which was spilling into the next month and the provision of personal protective clothing were resolved.

The majority of issues are yet to be resolved.

When reached for comment, one Michael Mupanganili, a supervisor referred all questions to Kudakwashe Mutunja, the Human Resources manager and Charles Muchabaiwa, the Public Relations Officer.

Both Muchabaiwa and Mutunja did not respond to questions sent to them.

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