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Gweru Company Misses Back Pay Deadline

Caridon Abbrassives
Employees of a Gweru company worry about their future as the company misses a deadline set by an arbitrator to pay back wages.

Workers at Caridorn Abrasives in Gweru are unhappy and worried after almost nine months without pay and no word from management about their long-term status.

The future of the company itself is in question, as Caridorn has seen very little productivity since its South African parent company sold it to local owners. Caridorn makes abrasives and related products. It has offices in Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru.

Workers said they have not been paid since April 2012. One worker named Phiri (not his real name) told VOA Studio 7 that affected employees sought arbitration last year to resolve the pay issues.

The arbitrator who handled the case gave Caridorn until Thursday (January 17) to pay the workers their outstanding wages. That deadline came and went with no word from management.

Phiri said with Caridorn’s apparent failure to comply with the ruling to pay them, the workers now expect their representatives to refer the matter to the High Court.

Until 2009, Caridorn was a subsidiary of one of Zimbabwe’s leading conglomerates, Murray & Roberts. According to the workers, in 2009, Murray & Roberts sold the company to Mr. Biggie Karigambe, who was then the company’s operations director.

The firm also, workers claim, ceded a 10% stake to them. Since the sale, workers say production at the firm has been sporadic, with workers sitting idle and not receiving wages.

At its peak, Caridorn employed over 200 workers, including those at its branches in Bulawayo and Harare. Today, only 50 workers are actively employed.

To learn why the company has seen such an apparent decline, Studio 7 first sought information from Murray & Roberts. On January 9th, VOA spoke with chief executive officer Stewart Mangoma, who asked that questions by submitted by email.

Questions were emailed and Mr. Mangoma confirmed receipt, but as of this report, he has not responded. VOA Studio 7 has also attempted to speak with Mr. Karigambe, Caridorn's new owner. Text messages and calls to Mr. Karigambe's cell phone have gone unanswered.

The lack of pay and guidance has weighed heavily on workers, who said they are experiencing extreme hardships after waiting for such a long time without their wages.

Another worker, who asked that Studio 7 not use his name, said: “Things have really been bad for us since April 2012 and we continue to suffer. I don’t have a family, but I have to look after my elderly parents who live in the rural areas. Here in town, I live in my father’s house, but since April I have not been able to pay for the rates.

"Some of my colleagues who owned houses here in town had to sell them and relocate to rural areas. Others who were lodgers have had their property confiscated over non-payment of rent. For us as Caridorn workers, the situation is really bad.”
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Mr. Phiri, who has school-age children, said he has no money to pay school fees. “I have a wife and two kids,” he said. “The first one - a girl- is in grade five, and the second - a boy - is starting his Grade One. There is no way in which I can get any money from anywhere.

"I have now resorted to menial jobs - digging in some people’s fields and cutting firewood for others. But the money is never enough and with two children now going to school, it’s going to be very tough for me to pay for their fees.”

Beyond regular wages, Phiri claimed that the company is no longer contributing to the workers’ pension fund. “There are some people who quit work on their own and got their pensions,” Phiri explained.

“But for us who remain, we made our own investigations and discovered that the pensions that were being deducted from our wages were not being remitted to Old Mutual, our pension fund managers. So this means that if any one of us wants to quit, they won’t get any pension. There is nothing there.”

It is not clear if the High Court will take the workers' case. Until it does, or until they find new sources of employment, Phiri and his fellow workers are left wondering just what ails the company.