By Tererai Karimakwenda
SW Radio Africa
21 September 2013
Workers at Hwange Colliery, who have gone without wages for at least five months now, are reported to have ended their strike action that began last Friday, after managers advertised their positions as available and police violently disrupted their peaceful demonstration.
According to SW Radio Africa correspondent Lionel Saungweme, the workers were supported by their wives as they tried to stage a sit-in demonstration on Friday, to demand payment of wages. But police arrived not long after and dispersed the gathering using brute force.
Many women who had come to support their unpaid husbands were assaulted by the police, with some having to receive treatment at local hospitals. No serious injuries were reported.
Saungweme said: “The wives were beaten but it was the workers who staged a sit-in and management responded by posting adverts for the jobs of the workers that were striking. This was a move to intimidate them to return back to work and as of today many of workers have returned back to work.”
The situation in Hwange has re-fuelled debate about mismanagement and corruption at these government run institutions, as workers at the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), have also gone without wages for about nine months. Similar situations exist at many parastatals in the country.
But there are also questions regarding just why the workers stay at a job for such long period without getting any wages and how they manage to pay their rent, food, travel and other basic living expenses.
“Basically there is hope that the company will pay and when it does it will pay workers a lump sum. There is also fear that once somebody leaves work they might not be protected by the labour unions that are there. They also want some kind of a pension in old age,” Saungweme explained.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which has strongly criticized the failure by parastatals countrywide to manage their operations efficiently, confirmed the situation at Hwange Colliery and the NRZ.
ZCTU secretary general Japhet Moyo, confirmed to SW Radio Africa that police beat up the wives of Hwange Colliery workers when they tried to stage a sit-in to demand the unpaid salaries last week. There has been no coordinated strike action since.
Explaining why workers continue at a job without pay, Moyo said: “We have to make ends meet by doing other things during the employers’ time because we have got no choice. People tend to misuse the employers premises and equipment to make extra money. As we say ‘it feeds where it is tethered’.”
He added: “It’s a dilemma because workers will feel that maybe things will change tomorrow. So you can’t opt out of work. You have to stay put and hope that when things change you will be found with a job.”
The labour activist did concede that this creates a vicious cycle where there is no production by workers who are not being paid, and the company makes no money to pay them. He said other companies, like Air Zimbabwe and the ZESA power provider, are exploited by ZANU PF officials who do not pay for services.
According to Moyo, the same problems exist within most of the parastatals in Zimbabwe, with workers going unpaid and government appointing managers for political reasons.
“Most of the people deployed in these institutions are not trained to manage civilian institutions. Most of them spend time away tending to their own farms or to political business. Most are either former or serving police officers or army officials,” Moyo said.
Meanwhile, non-government workers also suffered a setback last week, when the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), agreed on an “automatic wage reduction” for workers countrywide.
The resolution by this umbrella body, that brings together big business and industry in Zimbabwe, was adopted during the CZI Congress, held at Bulawayo’s Holiday Inn last week October 9th to 11th.
At the congress, CZI President Charles Msipa reportedly said: “There is need for an automatic wage reduction in terms of companies that are in distress. That is the first cut directionally”.
The ZCTU’s Moyo said with hundreds of companies reported to have already shut down this year, the situation is bound to get worse for workers as even more companies struggle to stay afloat.