HARARE, February 14 (The Source) – Workers at struggling State-owned companies, Hwange Colliery Company and National Railways of Zimbabwe were being treated like ‘slaves,’ National Assembly legislators said on Tuesday, accusing government officials of running the firms aground through corruption and looting.
The MPs, who were debating a motion on the Second Report of the Portfolio Committee on Public Service on the working conditions prevailing at the two parastatals along with Dete Refactories, said additionally, many workers could not afford basic necessities such as healthcare as the firms failed to remit their contributions for medical aid.
St. Mary’s MP, Unganai Tarusenga (MDC-T) told Parliament that during the committee’s visit to Hwange Colliery, workers revealed they were denied tea breaks and were made to work without protective clothing.
“Workers are treated as slaves, which is against our Labour Relations Act, which stipulates that workers must have adequate protective clothing,” Tarusenga said.
NRZ, which incurred losses of over $200 million between 2009 and 2013, has failed to run profitably for years due to undercapitalisation and ageing rolling stock. It is saddled with a $144 million debt while its 5,700 workers last year went on a prolonged strike after going 15 months without pay. The workers are owed $87 million.
At its peak, NRZ employed about 20,000 workers and moved 18 million tonnes of freight annually. NRZ now moves less than 100,000 tonnes per week, the effects of industry collapse and poor rail infrastructure.
Hwange Colliery is in a similarly desperate state with its current financials to June 30 last year showing current liabilities of $311 million, of which $256 million was under trade and other payables, against current assets of $61 million. It reported a full-year net loss of $115 million for 2015.
The state of the two parastatals mirror that of most of the country’s 91 state-owned enterprises which have been poorly run, contributing to further deterioration of the southern African nation’s economy.
“Government must put in place policies that protect workers that are retrenched or pensioners so that they get reasonable amounts because they are suffering getting little amounts,” Bindura South MP Remigious Matangira (Zanu-PF) said.
“It is a sorry state. Most former NRZ workers…. live on meagre pensions of $40. We have to revisit the pensionable payment to make it reasonable because we cannot give peanuts as pensions,” he said.
Molly Mkandla (Zanu-PF Proportional Representation) criticised ministers for ignoring the plight of workers and failing to take action over the abuse.
“The problem is that we have ministers that just sit in their offices in Harare. When reports of abuse of workers are made we expect ministers to go on the ground and investigate,” Mkandla said.
Chegutu West MP Dexter Nduna (Zanu-PF) suggested a change in the manner in which boards of state enterprises and parastatals are chosen.
Nduna said Parliament must now play a role in choosing board members of parastatals to ensure qualified people run the entities in a professional manner.