Pay dispute rocks colliery

Fairness Moyana Business Correspondent
TROUBLED coal miner, Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL), is again at loggerheads with its workers after it failed to pay them a full month’s salary before the festive season.

This follows an agreement reached between the company’s management and the workers’ committee that the employees would be paid one month’s salary before the festive season.

Of late, HCCL has faced lawsuits running into millions of dollars after creditors and some former employees dragged it to court for failing to pay them.

Due to mounting operational constraints, the colliery has accumulated about $20 million in salary arrears.

HCCL workers’ committee chairman Casper Ndlovu said the company was not taking their plight seriously as they continued to disappoint them by not fulfilling contractual obligations.

“The company has continued to take workers for granted. For the past three years, management has promised to pay us our outstanding salaries but has failed to do so.

“And now, the company had promised to pay us a full month’s salary before the festive season or to give us $200 each as allowances, again none of the options have materialised.

“We’re tired of promises and in as much as there could be some efforts, what we want as workers is for management to pay us what we’ve been toiling for. How they do that isn’t our problem,” he said.

As a result of HCCL failing to fulfill its promises, Ndlovu said the workers had been reduced to beggars.

He said they were facing an uncertain future and appealed to management to prioritise workers’ welfare as a matter of urgency.

He said last month management promised to pay off the rest of the workforce who had not received their $200 allowance for November before committing to pay a full salary by Christmas.

“We entered into an understanding with management that they would pay us one month salary in full so we can be cushioned against the prevailing economic hardships and at least celebrate Christmas with our families. However, we were surprised when the day came that nothing had come our way.

“This is a painful experience which the company has made us go through even though we’ve been faithful,” said one tearful worker who refused to be named.

Another employee who also refused to be named said: “What the company is doing is bad, we’ve faithfully served it over the years regardless of the operational challenges; we even supported the turnaround initiatives that the company embarked on but we’re very disturbed that they continue to take us for granted, making flimsy commitments they know they can’t keep.”

When Business Chronicle visited the HCCL’s human resources offices on Wednesday, a handful of workers were milling around waiting to be paid.

HCCL managing director Thomas Makore said: “We’ve been experiencing delays in paying the workers allowances on agreed dates because some of our customers haven’t paid us for the coal sales.

“However, we’re busy right now working flat out to push for the payment of what we’re owed by our customers. . .”

Last month, the government said it was not happy with production levels at HCCL despite the recent acquisition of new equipment meant to boost coal output.

HCCL recently procured mining equipment worth $31,2 million comprising 10 dumpsters, five front-end loaders, two wheel dozers, two excavators, two water bowsers, three front-end loaders, three bulldozers, three drill rigs, a motor grader and one tyre handler.

It was hoped that the new machinery together with the work of a contractor – Mota Engil – would see output increasing from 200,000 to 450,000 tonnes per month.

Mota-Engil was engaged last year to produce 200,000 tonnes of coal monthly and it began open cast mining in August.

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