Leonard Ncube in Victoria Falls
PRESIDENT Mnangagwa has said the labour dispute between Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL) and its workers, which has seen spouses protesting against management since January this year, should be resolved through dialogue.
HCCL has been locked in a long standing labour dispute with its workers who claim they have not been paid for about three years. Workers’ spouses have been demonstrating against management since January, demanding the coal mining company fulfils its pledge to pay them outstanding salaries after agreeing to a Scheme of Arrangement last year.
The workers want to be paid lump sum packages of up to $10 000 each and have been promised full pay starting this month.
Recently, Government dispatched Home Affairs Minister Dr Obert Mpofu and Labour and Social Welfare Minister, Petronella Kagonye, who both promised to take the concerns to the presidency. On Thursday President Mnangagwa told journalists at a press conference in Victoria Falls Government will not divert tax payer’s money to pay HCCL workers.
“Yes, we dispensed two or so ministers to Hwange. We should not force a solution on our people but the solution must come out of dialogue, which is critical,” said President Mnangagwa.
He said while complaints of the workers must be fulfilled, it was important to “separate legitimate demands and illegitimate demands”.
President Mnangagwa said currently the coal miner has no capacity to bail itself as he intimated a possibility of re-scheduling of the debt it owes workers.
“There must be resources. The question is, does Hwange Colliery have capacity and resources to fulfil these needs?
“Negotiations will continue but I don’t think it’s necessary for tax payers’ money to be used to pay a dispute of a commercial entity that can create problems. This is why there is re-scheduling of debt because there will be no capacity,” noted President Mnangagwa.
He said the same applies to the strike by doctors, adding that while their demands were genuine and being worked on, the question should be asked whether Treasury has the resources to meet them.
The company owes its creditors $352 million with $74 million being owed to workers. In Hwange, the women are still camped at the entrance to the company’s management office where a tent has since been pitched, since they started the protest on January 29. They are sleeping at the premises as part of their demonstration.
Since the demonstration started, the company has paid the workers 5.2 percent of the outstanding salaries in two batches of 2.6 percent each. The protestors have refused to end the demonstration saying the money was insignificant.
The company management has, however, dragged them to the High Court twice seeking an order to evict them. HCCL lost on the two cases with the recent one being a ruling by Harare High Court judge Justice Lavender Makoni who dismissed the application as not urgent and ordered HCCL to follow the normal procedure. In the urgent application, HCCL had sought an order directing Police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga to deploy anti-riot police to eject the protestors from its premises.
Police were the respondents and the protestors were co-opted after applying for a joinder, which was granted. The legal fight is far from over as HCCL last week reported the women for criminal trespass alleging that they illegally entered the general purpose office on January 29 when they started the demonstration.
The case will be heard today at the Hwange magistrates’ court according to state papers, with eight women — Yeyani Shoko, Tendai Sithole, Chipo Tazvivinga, Siboniso Ndlovu, Amari Saulo, Bridget Nyoni, Thobekile Shoko and Claris Ngoma being the accused on behalf of others.
They are represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights while the complainant is Hwange Colliery represented by Mr Thabo Lubinda, a security and loss control officer.