By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
19 May 2014
Hundreds of workers at Hwange Colliery are set to lose their jobs in a planned retrenchment exercise that will affect at least half the 3,200 workforce.
The retrenchments will be the third in a space of two years after the energy firm laid off 304 and 1,000 other workers in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
The exercise comes amid persistent financial problems at the coal mining firm and is aimed at turning the company around, the State-run Chronicle newspaper said Monday.
Hwange is reported to be at least $172 million in debt.
There are also plans to unbundle the company into six units, and to reduce the number of senior managers, Hwange Colliery board chairman Farai Mutamangira reportedly said in a circular to shareholders.
Mutamangira said the aim is to reduce both the workforce and the wage bill by 50%, adding that they had already hired a consultant to rationalise costs.
He also indicated that the energy company expects to secure loans totalling $33.5 million, with $15 million of this coming from an Indian bank.
A worker at Hwange Colliery told SW Radio Africa that the management is yet to inform or discuss the proposed layoffs with the workers.
“There is a rumour that management met and resolved to retrench workers but nothing has been communicated to us so at the moment we do not know how far true this is,” said one worker who asked to be identified as Welshman Moyo.
“We are surprised to hear them talking about retrenching when the last set of retrenchees have not received their packages,” Moyo said.
Moyo was referring to hundreds of workers who were retrenched last year in what Hwange Colliery spokesman Burzil Dube said was a “temporary” lay-off.
Sixteen of the workers have taken the coal miner to court in a bid to force their former employer to remit their retrenchment packages, estimated at $1.2 million.
Moyo also highlighted the fact that most of the workers have gone for almost a year without being paid their wages and blamed management for the financial problems at the company.
Last year in September, the wives of the Colliery workers protested the non-payment of salaries on behalf of their husbands. The protest was brutally crushed by police.
Former energy minister Elton Mangoma said the problems at the former coal mining giant reflect everything that is amiss in Zimbabwe at the moment.
“In Hwange you get management ineptitude, lack of accountability, looting and political interference. And unfortunately it is the low-paid worker who is the worst affected,” Mangoma said.
The former minister blamed the ruling party for the job losses, saying the families of the 1,500 workers at Hwange will join millions of others who have been rendered destitute through ZANU PF’s misrule.
Recently, Hwange Colliery rejected a bailout offer by major shareholder Nicholas van Hoogstraten, because he wanted most of the senior managers to go and also demanded total control of the firm for five years.
Controversial businessman and ZANU PF financier Billy Rautenbach has also expressed interest in investing in Hwange, although the workers say they prefer Hoogstraten “because he recognises that top managers are part of the problem,” Moyo said.