Chinese company moves to avert workers strike in Hwange

By Tinashe Mungazi

The Chinese company, Sinohydro Corporation, contracted to work at Hwange Thermal Power Station, ‘finally’ sat down with workers on Friday to avert a strike that potentially could delay the completion of the billion dollar electricity expansion project.

This follows the withdrawal of 90 percent of labour from the Stage 3, Unit 7 and 8 expansion project at Hwange Thermal Power Station, as workers demanded a salary review and better working conditions.

The lowest paid worker – a general hand, which is the grade for most workers, takes home RTGS89 per hour according to the National Employment Council (NEC) rates.

Workers at the Chinese company and its sub contractors are also calling for improved working conditions, transport and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from their employer.

The stand-off saw management, representatives from the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, including Labour, Zimbabwe Construction Workers Union (ZCWU) and the workers committee leadership holding a five hour long crunch meeting this Friday.

Hwange Central Member of Parliament, Daniel Molokele, was reportedly barred but ended up gaining entry into the meeting after refusing to be on the sidelines.

Addressing over 1 000 workers who had gathered outside the company premises after the meeting, ZCWU Secretary General, Nicholas Mazarura, said management had finally yielded to the workers’ demands including paying them in United States dollars.

“We engaged management and they expressed commitment to come to the negotiation table. They indicated that they could not meet the workers’ demand for a US dollar wage but after our insistence they finally agreed,” he said.

Mazarura, however, said the process would also require both governments of Zimbabwe and China to make adjustments to the contract arrangement before workers could start receiving forex at the beginning of November.

“Let’s take note that this will involve a process for this arrangement to be implemented. The management has agreed to that but they cannot do it alone with only our signatures. We want to make sure that in November you start to be paid in US dollars. So the time frame in which this should happen now rests with us as we are supposed to sign an agreement. What is important to take note of is they have said they are prepared to do that,” he said.

The trade unionist also noted the company had agreed to provide transport to all the workers, improve meals, which are provided to the workers by hiring a caterer.

“The management said it will start providing transport from October 26, while a catering company is going to be engaged to handle standard meals. They also agreed to attend to the PPE issues that were raised. The arrangement will be if your safety shoes are worn out before the three months lapses, you hand them in and get a new replacement.”

However, workers demanded proof of the commitments made by management, after Mazarura suggested that the workers return to work.

“On whether you should go back to work or not, this does not come from me, it’s your decision. However, my role is to give advice, which is if we hold a strike that is unlawful, the employer is allowed to dismiss you immediately, Yes, you made a bold decision to stand your ground so things could be sorted. But we also need to tell you the truth, which is you need to accept that when the law is used, it doesn’t only look at you but at all the involved parties. If you don’t return to work, your job might end or not. So I want you to think about what is proper. The second factor is the more days you spend outside work, it’s marked absent and you can’t get paid.”

It could not be ascertained at the time of publishing if the workers would report for duty tomorrow as a consensus with their representatives was yet to be reached.

Unit 7 is expected to go online before the end of the year with the other Unit 8  supposed to be commissioned early next year.

The expansion project is part of the government efforts to address the perilous electricity shortages bedevilling the country.

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