By Sam Noko
The Chinese owners of Fools mine Investments hurriedly left for China following the expiry of their work permits, leaving workers without salaries and protective gear and is reportedly violating the country’s Covid-19 regulations by failing to provide the employees with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The gold mine, in Hope Fountain on the outskirts of Bulawayo, has been struggling to honour its salary obligations, with some workers owed salaries backdated to August last year.
the workers reportedly earn between $12 000 to $14 000 per month which is below the minimum wage of $18 000.
Recently, the mine made headlines, after one of the Chinese bosses Zhang Zhongy (61), appeared in court for assaulting two of the employees, Tatenda Mangena and Costan Mhasa.
He was later issued with deportation order after the Immigration department discovered that he was in the country illegally as his work permit had expired.
The workers’ committee representative at the mine, Kembo Hofisi, said safety and hygiene standards at the mine have dropped drastically as workers are forced to go underground without protective clothing.
Hofisi said they workers are not supplied with PPEs, sanitisers, and safety clothing.
“Well, we are waiting for PPEs and back pays. Workers are sanitised when getting in the plant but it is not the same for those who work underground. The workers are not even given face masks to protect them from Covid-19,” Hofisi said.
The mine manager Thabani Masuku confirmed the departure of some of the Chinese bosses and the shortage of PPEs saying efforts were being made to alleviate the crisis.
“Those who left, their permits had expired. On wages everyone was paid we are waiting to pay the February salary. As soon as we receive money it will be our first priority,” Masuku said.
“Yes there is a challenge of PPEs but we are engaging some suppliers to provide PPEs. We, however, have sanitisers and temperature checking is being done”
The National Union of Mines Quarrying, Iron and Steel Workers of Zimbabwe (NUMQISWZ) Legal Education and Training Officer Shadreck Pelewelo confirmed that they have received a report on the plight of workers at the mine.
“We are investigating the issues of concerns at the mine, we recently went to the Fools Mine where we summoned the mine manager and on Monday (March 1) we met with him. He told us that they were unable to meet the deadline of resolving the concerns,” Pelewelo said.
“The manager also confirmed to us that they were sanitising workers but the issue of PPEs is a challenge. So we are saying the mine must stop operations until the issues of COVID-19 compliance and safety clothing are resolved.”
Pelewelo said in their investigations they established that some of the Chinese owners who remained behind live inside the mining premises together with the workers which is against the laws of Zimbabwe.
The new developments come a few weeks after the NUMQISWZ petitioned the mine to address the lack of safety clothing, poor working conditions, shortage of PPEs and sanitisers as part of the country’s Covid-19 regulations.
Pelewelo added that the workers were asked to buy their own protective clothing.
He said to make it even worse when the electricity goes, the mine workers sometimes spend two days underground until the electricity is restored.
“It is very risky and worse than the situation in artisanal mines,” Pelewelo said.
“We want to put a stop to this.”
The union’s probe comes at a time when the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) recently launched investigations on the cases of abuse at the mine.
This was after the Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) and 13 other civic organisations petitioned the Zimbabwe Human Right Commission (ZHRC), NPRC and the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) demanding an immediate probe on the entire mining sector especially at mines owned by Chinese where abuse against workers is reportedly rife.