Chinese treat workers like slaves

Zimbabwean workers have accused their Chinese employer, Sagecoa Zimbabwe Company Limited, of treating them like slaves, physically assaulting them and only paying them $4 a day.

Construction workers cannot afford to lose their jobs and are forced to accept poor working conditions.
Construction workers cannot afford to lose their jobs and are forced to accept poor working conditions.

They reported that about 200 employees were engaged at the beginning of the project in March 2009, but currently only 45 workers are left after most of them left over unfair labour practices.

The remaining 45 workers took their employers to the Labour Court demanding better working conditions and a salary increment. However, the case was withdrawn from the arbitration tribune after the two camps resolved an out of court settlement.

The Human Resources Operations Manager of Chinese Projects in Manicaland Province, Brigadier Tarumbwa said: “On the 7th of every month, Sagecoa Zimbabwe Company Limited will be paying $20 000 to cover the wages in arrears. They will also state an increment on fixed monthly wages”.

Sceptical about reforms

Despite being promised such reforms, most of the workers are sceptical. It was reported that in one of the hearings held at the Ministry of Labour in August this year, Tarumbwa stated that wages could not be increased because diamonds were not auctioned due to sanctions.

When the workers dragged their employer to the Labour Court, Tarumbwa even went on to threaten journalists not to report the story.

The Chinese firm is currently constructing a complex of apartments and offices for a Chinese diamond mining company, Anjin Investments, at Natvest Site in the eastern border town of Mutare.

The construction workers include carpenters, builders, plumbers and general hands. They revealed that they were living in abject poverty due to the low wages their employer had been paying them.

“We are treated like slaves. The Chinese beat us up for no apparent reason. They underpay us. They fire us whenever they see fit. They tell us we can report anywhere we want but it will be a waste of time since they have the government backing,” said a worker on condition of anonymity.

New colonisers

Another disgruntled worker said, “We are now slaves in our own country at the hands of our new colonisers. The government is watching while we are being mistreated. When we reported the Chinese to the Labour court, Tarumbwa backed the Chinese.”

The Zimbabwe Construction and Allied Trade Workers Union Regional Officer, Jackson Mutisi, confirmed the crisis at the company, saying that the Chinese were proving to be difficult employers.

“The union received a series of workers’ rights violations cases from the company. Sometimes they intimidate and harass union officials whenever we approach the company,” he said, adding that the company was also not paying trade union dues which had amounted to $12 000.

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