BULAWAYO, March 29 (The Source) – Workers at state-owned National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) on Tuesday downed tools in protest after going for 14 months without getting their salaries, officials have said.
The strike also affected the debt-ridden parastatal’s two stations in Harare and Gweru. NRZ is saddled with a $144 million debt — workers are owed more than $68 million — and so far efforts to recapitalise it have failed as the government’s negotiations with the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) for a loan of up to $700 million to fund its rehabilitation appear to have stalled.
NRZ public relations officer Fanuel Masikati confirmed the strike and pleaded with the workers to be patient.
“We are very sympathetic to the plight of workers as an organisation. Yes, workers are owed 14 months’ salaries and the organisation is trying by all means to meet their demands,” he said.
He said business was very low owing to a depressed economy, leading to delays in the payment of workers’ salaries.
NRZ’s collapse has also been blamed on government’s interference. Recently, Masikati revealed NRZ moved three million tonnes of goods last year, down from 3,8 million tonnes in 2014.
At its peak pre-crisis levels in 1998, NRZ moved 18 million tonnes of cargo.
He said NRZ had a total of 3,516 wagons for moving cargo, out of a fleet size of 7,354 wagons.
The parastatal was facing challenges such as ageing infrastructure and equipment, which had surpassed its designed lifespan. The locomotives and wagons also needed replacement, Masikati said.
Zimbabwe’s loss-making state-owned enterprises owe workers hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid salaries.
Last month, Grain Marketing Board (GMB) workers camped outside the parastatal’s Harare head office to press for payment of salaries, which they had not received since October 2015, resulting in$4.7 million arrears. The workers only dispersed after the government intervened and undertook to pay them off.
Analysts have urged President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government to wean off and privatise the bulk of its nearly 80 parastatals, which continue to be a drain on the fiscus.