Former employees live in poverty

mutare_paper_millsMUTARE At one time the machines worked for 24 hours as a result of the massive production of newsprint. (Pictured: Mutare Board and Paper Mill that once made significant contributions to the timber area)

The company was the most popular heavy duty industry within the community, employing more than 500 workers. Now, former employees of the Mutare Board and Paper Mills (MBPM) wallow in poverty. Once a company of significance in the timber industry, MBPM closed down its operations in November 2009 after facing viability challenges.

The closure of the Mills operations was necessitated by the performance of the company. Total revenue for the company was US$3.955 million but the loss for the company was US$1.514 million. MBPM failed to continue its operations as there was increased competition in the provision of newsprint with a significant amount of it coming from neighbouring countries.

Some former employees of the company were given voluntary exit packages.

Workers cry foul

The former employees, most of whom are still out of work, are now crying foul after the MBPM management revealed that there were still some contentious issues to be resolved before the disposal of the companys assets. The toll has been high for hundreds of workers, their families and the community.

One former employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had lost his income plus housing and living expenses and is now living a destitute life. “It’s a disaster. I’ve got nothing right now. I am finished. The management is dragging its feet towards resolving the outstanding issues that were left during the package negotiation period, he said.

Another worker said: There is the issue of leave days that were never compensated. The management is insisting that our leave days have become negative since most of them were due as a result of forced compulsory days after the plant faced viability problems. This is not fair.

The workers have also expressed disgruntlement over the criteria the management used in calculating their packages. We were offered service pay for one month salary for 15 years and two weeks salary for each year served for the rest of the employment period. This method only benefited much to those who had served the company for a short period. This has prejudiced most of the workers who had served the factory for a longer period like 35 and 40 years, he added. There were 18 workers who were sent on forced early retirement who are also up in arms with the company.

We are contesting for an upward review of our benefits. The money and benefits that they gave us do not commensurate with the time they served the company, explained affected worker. The workers are represented by Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) Eastern Region.

Fighting for the cause

Commenting about the issue the Paralegal Officer for ZCTU in Manicaland Adrian Mugwanju said: The issue on exit packages has remained with little substance since it was done on a voluntary basis. Had the employees challenged it before voluntarily accepting what was offered by their management, it would have been fruitful on their part. But the workers said they will fight for their cause.

MBPM, a subsidiary of ART Corporation, is set to dispose MBPM assets valued at US$7.3 million as part of a strategy to clear an 8.5 million debt. ART Chief Executive Officer Richard Zirobwa said: the agreement to dispose the land and buildings to retire the debt is about 80 percent complete. We have received a firm offer for our forest estates.

Interest from the debt had been negatively affecting the companys operations. However, ART is in a position to achieve a turnover of $36 million to September 2011 powered by how largely the company will deal with the debt issue. Mutare Board & Paper Mills was a paper making operation based in Mutare and started manufacturing paper board in 1953. Production of newsprint started in 1962.

Since then, the Company remained the sole producer of newsprint products in Zimbabwe. MBPM enjoyed presence, not only in Zimbabwe but in the SADC & COMESA regions, where it served countries such as Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa and the DRC.

Its newsprint and board products found application in the printing, publishing, scholastic, packaging & construction industries. MBPM significantly contributed to Zimbabwes employment capital. The factory that was located in the Eastern Highlands, where the temperate climate was ideal for growing the exotic pine trees which provided the basic raw material for the paper machines.

The Mill had two production lines, where board and newsprint were made. The combined capacity of the plant was approximately 30,000t per year. But today a visit to the factory brings sad memories of a once vibrant company that offered employment to hundreds of people.

Post published in: Economy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *