By Tinashe Mungazi
Hundreds of workers employed by Sinohydro Corporation, a Chinese contractor constructing Stage 7 and 8 expansion project at Hwange Thermal Power Station, are threatening industrial action over low salaries including poor working conditions after staging a sit-in Wednesday.
The development will most likely affect provision of electricity.
Sources told CITE that negotiations with the management failed prompting workers to stage a sit-in at the company’s site offices.
According to sources close to the developments, workers were spurred into action after management sought to intimidate them with threats rather than negotiating in good faith.
“These Chinese led managers are taking us for granted. We tabled our grievances, which are mostly around issues of low salaries and deteriorating working conditions. Instead of the management negotiating in good faith they started issuing what first appeared to be veiled threats of dismissal. It was mostly targeted at dividing us as workers but we stood our ground. This is why we ended up downing tools in protest,” said one worker who requested anonymity.
Over 800 workers from the four major companies subcontracted by the Chinese giant, confronted the Chinese management demanding salary reviews, improved working conditions and Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) among other things.
The workers complained of long working hours without them allowed to take off days, as well as operating under an unsafe working environment.
They also demanded to be provided with transport arguing that the current system was not covering everyone.
“Workers work for long hours without off days and we are paid per hour worsened by the policy that says ‘no work. no pay.’ One has to work like a donkey to clock overtime, which is also cut by management over silly things like standing during duty. So the same policy, is going to be used against us today since we did not report for duty. We are also demanding transport provision because at the moment the bus does not cover everyone and many are left to walk many kilometres to or from work,” they said.
It is understood that a Matebeleland North principal labour officer identified only as Patience came to address the workers after talking to management.
She advised them that their grievances were being considered.
“Following our action of the sit out an officer from the Labour department came to address us and informed us that he had engaged management which was looking into the concerns. We are likely to know the outcome of that meeting tomorrow but if no visible commitments are made we will continue with the action,” workers said.
The workers also accused the management of hiding behind the National Employment Council (NEC), citing that the council’s construction arm had not negotiated for any salary increase.
“The most infuriating thing is they are saying NEC is the one that must negotiate for salary so they can’t award any increment. However, if our grievances are not dealt with, we will be forced into a full scale industrial action. As workers, we have rights too and we cannot continue to watch them trampled on,” workers chorused.
Efforts to receive a comment from the project manager, Engineer Forbes Chanakira, were fruitless as his mobile phone went unanswered.