Hwange Colliery Workers Unpaid in 19 Months

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Hwange Colliery Company, with a primary listing on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange and also listed on the Johannesburg and London stock exchanges, is at loggerheads with its 3 000-strong workforce, who have gone unpaid for a cumulative 19 months.

Questions were sent to Mr Thomas Makore, the managing director of Hwange Colliery Company, on Tuesday evening and though he said he had responded to them by Wednesday, nothing came through. He was provided with an alternative email address on Thursday, to which he promised he would send the responses. But by the time of going to print, and in spite of repeated reminders of the outstanding answers, nothing had come through.

Though the workers seem to have left their fate in God’s hands over the non-payment of their salaries, they say the company’s woes — and by extension theirs too — have been as a result of a pot-pourri of gross financial indiscipline by management at the company.

Top of the list of grievances by workers is the level of corruption at the company, which they readily acknowledge that because of its nature, corruption is hard to prove but can be seen through the excesses that the company management engage in.

The workers say everyone in senior management drives top-of-the-range vehicles, which are personal, with the company-allocated ones having been surrendered to spouses.

To this end the workers say the company resources are being stretched.

“For instance, when we receive fuel, which will be meant for production, the first to be served are the vehicles for senior management, and these are usually brought in by spouses for re-fuelling. And most of the times they bring jerry-cans, arguing they have this and that journey,” said a senior employee who cannot be named to protect his work interests.

Because of limited cash flows, the limited fuel supply, which would have been meant to meet production, ends up going to non-productive use.

Also tied to the financial largesse being exhibited by management, at a time when the company is supposedly not making any money, workers say top management is always either in Harare or out of the country, on expensive and unnecessary sojourns, which have brought little or no financial respite to the ailing company.

Interestingly, when The Sunday Mail arrived on Monday, there was no one to answer questions, as all the top management were said to be in Harare.

Closely linked to the corrupt tendencies, workers allege that sub-contracting has been taken to an evil level, where standard rules and regulations are not followed, all in the interests of passing on the contract to an associate.

For example, a drilling rig was not repaired and serviced because the company “could not afford” the $800 needed for the service and maintenance of the rig.

In the end, the company hired a contractor to do the drilling, at a cost of $18 000. Similarly, a belt for the crushers cost, on average, $6 000 from the usual supplier. But the belts are allowed to run their full life such that when they are replaced, which is usually at short notice, they are supplied at exorbitant prices. One instance being when it was supplied for $15 000.

The colliery’s battery, which was recently refurbished, and with a potential to go for 10 to 15 years, has since been switched off after it was not serviced and maintained.

With coal, which ironically is mined by the colliery, being the main ingredient feeding into the battery, the negligence reached such alarming proportions at one time it was fed with diesel instead, consuming between 6 000 and 10 000 litres per day.

With the cost of running it using diesel becoming uneconomic, the mine switched back to coal but poor quality coal was used, resulting in it packing up. The battery is used to produce coking coal, a process that the mine has since sub-contracted.

Coal, by its nature has many by-products, chief among them being methane gas, bitumen and the different types and sizes of coal.

But Hwange Colliery Company is not producing any gas at the moment, though they had a standing contract with power utility, Zesa, that HCC supply gas to be used in power generation. In fact, the gas pipe, which used to supply the commodity to Zesa lies idle in the mining town.

As for bitumen, which should be a product in demand given the extensive road rehabilitation going on in the country, Hwange has found it in its wisdom, not to produce the by-product. Even the roads in Hwange town, the mine itself and the stretch along the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls highway, do not show that bitumen is a by-product of the mine.

In South Africa, for example, South African Synthetic Oil Liquid (Sasol) makes most of its products from refining coal, with the products exported widely in the region.

Besides going for 19 months without salaries, workers allege that management at Hwange has not been sympathetic to their welfare, given how the company has floundered on remitting deducted subscriptions to different service providers. For example, Nyaradzo Funeral Assurance, which used to provide funeral cover has since withdrawn its service.

The situation is so dire such that when Johannes Mutsengi passed away recently and had to be buried in Masvingo, only six mourners managed to accompany the body for burial. This is in spite of the selfless dedication that Mutsengi had given to the company, which had not even paid him for more than a year.

The non-remittance of subscriptions has also meant that workers have to do without medical aid cover, a facility which they used to enjoy. As well, since August 2009 they have not had pension cover. The Mining Industry Pension Fund only covers Hwange Colliery workers up to pre-August 2009, without the company meeting whatever pension was accrued from then, with a 5 percent interest mark.

The poor payment system used by the company has seen cronies of management getting paid ahead of other — and due — payments. This has seen the relationship between Hwange Colliery and its suppliers reach near-breaking point, such that most suppliers now insist on cash upfront, a situation which has seen most equipment and machinery not being serviced on time.

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