Hwange is on fire. It has been burning for years, but very few notice.
Now, a group of women want Zimbabwe to see the flames. Their husbands have gone five years without getting salaries from the colliery that employs them. And the women have taken matters into their own hands.
A scheme of arrangement the colliery company signed before the High Court last year, the salaries are to be paid in 36 monthly instalments.
The initial payment was seven percent of the sum owed, which was duly paid in July 2017. Another payment came in December, and then the company said it would not be able to meet its obligations until June 2018.
So on January 29, the women camped outside the colliery’s administrative offices and vowed to stay put until their husbands got all their dues.
They claim that employee representatives Garikai Sigauke and Stanley Ncube, who signed the scheme of arrangement on the workers’ behalf, were promoted soon after the deal and this made their decision-making questionable.
Besides demanding the resignation of Thomas Makore, the Hwange’s MD, the women also want human resources executive Ray Munangwa fired.
“Soon after he arrived he advised all those above 55 years to take voluntary retrenchment, yet he is above that age . . . The company has been saying that to turn around its fortunes, it needs to retrench but the company has been retrenching for years. Those who were retrenched in 2011 are to be paid their packages.
“But what is surprising us is that after retrenching, he employs people for exactly the same roles that he would have retrenched someone,” fumed Clarice Ngoma, a spokesperson of the demonstrators.
Retrenched workers have refused to vacate company accommodation, saying they will only do so when the company pays what it owes them.
This means newly recruited personnel are housed at Hwange’s lodge whilst others are at the nearby Baobab Hotel.
That is not all.
Across the colliery, estates and medical divisions, Hwange employs 2 135 people. Under the existing grading system, the workers take home a combined US$1 304 722,80 monthly.
The company wants to adopt the Patterson grading system, which will see the monthly wage bill rising to US$1 503 778,80.
“How can they say they are cost-cutting when they are increasing the salary load?” one worker asked.
There is also displeasure with the introduction of a medical aid scheme that limits the number of beneficiaries to three children.
“… what happens to our other children? We are being asked to pay for their medical aid, but pay them from where when our husbands are not being paid in the first place?” asked Ngoma.
Some disgruntled workers believe there is a deliberate attempt to cripple Hwange so that it cedes its vast coal concessions to competitors.
“There is the existence of a competitor (name supplied) which we think could be behind all the so-called misfortunes befalling our company. For instance, this other company tried to take over the contract to supply coal to ZPC, but its coal was dismissed because it has high ash content.
“Hwange’s coal is of a better quality. So there must be a deliberate plan to bring down Hwange, so that this competitor either moves in to take over Hwange’s operations and market share,” said a worker who declined to be named.
Part of management meeting minutes of September 27, 2017, also availed to this publication, reads: “Two of the company’s main customers namely, Lafarge Zimbabwe and South Mining, have each offered to prepay US$1,5 million for coal supplies. The board’s approval of the prepayments had been sought and was awaited to pave way for the pre-payments to be done.
“The committee noted the company was still paying salaries at 50 percent due to cash flow constraints. However, the target was to commence 100 percent payment of salaries. In the next meeting, the executive, finance and administration to report or update on the company’s status or capacity to pay salaries at 100 percent.”
For a company grappling with cash flow challenges, the workers raised questions on the competency of management when it sought board approval to receive pre-payment for a product which Hwange can supply. The corporate conspiracy theory, for some, comes with a political conspiracy theory.
“Fred Moyo was our managing director here and he went on to be appointed to the Mines Ministry. Same with Winston Chitando, he was once our board chairman and now he is Mines Minister,” the workers say. What this has to do with Hwange’s problems is not clearly explained.
A better case is made when it comes to the issue of equipment worth US$32 million that was commissioned in 2016 but presently all broken down.
“. . . dubious contracts are entered into with sub-contractors, most of whose equipment is faulty but they are paid on a daily basis all the same . . . This is coming from management that says it wants to turn around the company,” complained one employee. When The Sunday Mail Society sought comments from Hwange management, we were reffered to a media statement that was published last week.
Part of the statement read: “The current demonstrations are orchestrated by the (Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions) who are deliberately misrepresenting facts and addressing women, who are not its members.
“The issue, if any, has to remain between the company and its employees and the platforms for engagement as afforded by the law must be utilised for sound industrial relations capable of guaranteeing business continuity.”
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