By Tinashe Mungazi
Workers at Sinohydro Corporation which is working on stage 7 and 8 expansion project at Hwange Thermal Power Station have called for an end to the harassment and ill-treatment they are suffering at the hands of the Chinese contractors.
Last year the company came under the spotlight after reports of abuse of workers which involved locking them up and restricting their movements, feeding them substandard food, physical and verbal assaults surfaced.
The company was also accused of violation of labour laws and human rights abuses after dismissing workers without following procedures.
In its defence, the company argued that it needed to keep its workforce at the workplace to minimize the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The workers who were speaking during a feedback meeting with Zimbabwe Construction Workers Union secretary-general, Nicholas Mazarura on Friday said the levels of abuse and ill-treatment by the Chinese nationals had reached alarming levels.
Another said though they had on several occasions notified officials from the ministry of labour and management through their workers’ committee as part of their grievances no action was taken.
“The guys from labour are aware of these abuses so is management which includes ZPC but nothing has been done about it. At one point we protested strongly against moves by management to hole us up for months on end under the veil of Covid-19. Unfortunately, we failed to get redress as they used a divide and rule strategy where workers were threatened with dismissal. So for 3 months, we were caged like prisoners going through ill-treatment all in the name of securing your job and completing the project,” said one worker who only identified himself as Sam.
The workers expressed concern over the reluctance of the government to act on the workplace abuses despite the reports that had been made to authorities.
The workers also demanded the reinstatement of two co-workers who were summarily dismissed from work after being accused of inciting the protests.
“We have two of our colleagues who were targeted by the management and fired after being accused of inciting workers to strike. Why target these two when this was a collective job action. Since you are here as our representative as well as the human resources people we demand that they be reinstated without being subjected to further victimization, ” demanded the workers.
One of the affected workers narrated before ZCWU officials how he was humiliated and threatened before being fired without a hearing.
“I was called to the office by the human resources officer who was in the company of the Chinese supervisors before they accused me of being the ring leader and organizer of the protest on the first day. They threatened me and humiliated me before telling me that I wasn’t supposed to report for duty anymore. I also learnt that another employee had faced the same fate. Workers here don’t have rights, unionism is allowed on paper but practically its dangerous as it can get you fired, ” said Vincent Nyoni.
Mazarura who is also the national chairperson for the National Employment Council (NEC) called on the company’s management to reinstate the two workers arguing that the dismissals were in violation of the country’s labour laws.
“The human resources people are here and are listening to what you are saying. They should take steps to ensure that those issues are dealt with. The grievances laid forward by the should be taken seriously and addressed. It’s important to follow the country’s laws in handling labour matters so we will make sure these two cases you have mentioned are handled. On the issue of abuse of workers, we spoke about it not exclusively since we were saddled with resolving the other grievances. However, we are still engaging with management and this is one of the items that the workers committee will table in their further engagement with the company,” he said.
Over 1000 workers from Sinohydro and its subcontractors have from Wednesday been staging a sit out protesting low salaries, poor working conditions and lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The workers say their rights as employees are being trampled on as they are insulted, shouted at, assaulted and summarily dismissed for questioning authority. They argue that the lack of PPE is exposing them to various occupational hazards.
The company engaged the workers promising them to address their grievances as it moved to avert further delays to the completion of the billion dollar electricity project.