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Labor Tensions High in Zimbabwe State Firm Over Workers’ Salaries

Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority
Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority
Labor tensions at Hwange Colliery Company, the country's principal coal supplier, remain high, though hundreds of workers who staged a two-day sit in have returned to work, saying management threatened to sack them otherwise.

But workers have applied for permission go on a fully fledged strike.

Colliery workers complaining about the non-payment of salaries since February this year downed their tools for two days in a bid to press the company to act, following months of inconclusive negotiations between workers’ representatives and management.

Managers are now saying they expect to be able to pay salary arrears by April 19th or 20th, but declined to commit to the dates in writing. Workers are now waiting to permission to launch a full strike.

Several workers told VOA that problems started last year when more than 200 employees were retrenched. Workers blame Fathi Mpofu, the human resources manager, Zanu PF provincial leader, relative and political ally of mines and mining development minister Obert Mpofu.

They also accuse management of using colliery infrastructure, money and property such as buses and trucks to fund and provide logistical support to Zanu PF’s campaign in Matabeleland North, led by Minister Mpofu.

Employees say they no longer trust management’s statements that the workers would soon be paid. One worker, who asked not to be named for this report for fear the company would retaliate against him, said management has declared the strike illegal and threatened to discipline and possibly fire all participating workers.

Management, he added, also ordered workers to provide written explanations for their absence from work during this two-day period.

On Friday, a few employees said they received part of their outstanding February salaries, but hundreds are yet to be paid.

Workers have asked management to provide a written commitment clarifying when all overdue salaries would be paid. Workers have also now applied to the department of labor seeking permission for an indefinite industrial action, which they say will end only with the complete payment of all outstanding salaries.

In an effort to calm the situation, management gave every employee a food basket, including a 10 kg bag of mealie meal, 2 kgs of flour, 2 litres of cooking oil, a bar of soap and 500 gram packs of dried foods.

But employees who spoke to VOA said even this move failed to win over the workers. Employee Constantine Mpande explained the food basket seemed only to underscore fears that the company has no cash to pay salaries.

A manager at the Colliery, who asked not to be identified, told VOA that the company is facing a cash crisis. He blamed the company's financial woes on the new human resources manager alleged to have been appointed by Minister Obert Mpofu, who is accused of replacing retrenched workers with Zanu-PF supporters who do little or no real work.

Colliery spokesman Burzil Dube confirmed that there was indeed a two-day strike, which ended after what he called negotiations with management.

However, former Hwange West lawmaker Jealous Sansole, said the Hwange Colliery sufferred from political meddling and abuse of its properties and infrastructure that could seriously damage the company.

Many workers who spoke to VOA said since the appointment of a new board dominated by Zanu-PF office holders, its buses and trucks have been allegedly used to ferry party supporters to weekly campaign rallies held by Minister Mpofu in Hwange District since January.

Mpofu was not available for comment.