Hwange Colliery workers put on unpaid leave after 6 months without wages

The coal mining company Hwange Colliery is reported to have put about a third of its work force, 1000 workers, on unpaid leave, after they had gone for six months without any wages.

The move followed another blow for the workers on the same day, when the Bulawayo Labour Court declared that a two-week strike by the workers was illegal.

Justice Mercy Moya-Matshanga ordered the company not pay the striking workers for the period dating October 14th to October 29th this year and to convene a disciplinary hearing to penalize those involved.

According to reports, the company owes an estimated $160 million, with a six-month back log in salaries that totals $14 million. Revenue from sales has declined for the first half of this year, with a difference of $11.8 million compared to last year.

Earlier this month, the workers and their wives, who had come to support their husbands, attempted to conduct a sit-in demonstration to protest the ongoing failure by management to pay their salaries. But the police violently disrupted the action and assaulted the workers’ wives with baton sticks.

The government of Zimbabwe owns 37% of Hwange Colliery, which is widely known to be co-owned by top ZANU PF chefs and party supporters, including financial backer Nicholas Van Hoogstraten. The businessman recently made a takeover bid for the struggling Colliery, offering a $50 million bailout package that came with demands for reforms which would put him in control of management.

SW Radio Africa’s Bulawayo correspondent, Lionel Saungweme, described what is happening at Hwange Colliery and a similar situation at the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), as the “ZANU-nisation” of businesses, with party chefs taking over companies whose operations they do not understand. The NRZ has also failed to pay its workers for many months.

“There has been ill-treatment of workers and an ongoing ZANU-nisation of the business functions of the Colliery, which has also affected other parastatals. The transportation system, the carting of coal to Zisco-Steel and other needy areas in Zimbabwe has been taken over by ZANU PF friends,” Saungweme explained.

He said ZANU PF chefs like Billy Rautenbach at the NRZ and Van Hoogstraten at Hwange Colliery typify the way business structures have been infiltrated by individuals with no expertise in that particular sector.

Saungweme described how the NRZ was once run by Albert Mabhena, who he said was an expert in transport and railways systems and had studied in the United Kingdom. But the company later fell into ZANU PF control, especially under the late Mike Karakadzai, a former army general, and recorded losses.

According to Saungweme, government run businesses, especially the NRZ, are being used as cash cows by ZANU PF, and the whole system needs to be revamped to allow managers with expertise in each sector.

The Hwange Colliery development comes just weeks after the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), resolved at their annual conference to adopt an “automatic wage reduction” policy nationwide. They also agreed that retrenchment laws should be relaxed, signalling a tough year ahead for workers. – SW Radio Africa News

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