By Felix Matasva, Manicaland Correspondent
A Chinese-run gold mining company in Odzi peri-urban area of Mutare district has been accused of flouting labour laws and regulations meant to protect workers safety and with their right to organise.
The company is registered as Odzi Resources Zimbabwe Private Limited while trading as Ming Chang Sino Africa Investments.
It operates a number of gold mines across the country, including in areas such as Mashava, Mbalabala, Bulawayo, Kwekwe and Mazowe.
A former worker who was recently given the axe by the Chinese employer after speaking out against abuse has confirmed the ill-treatment being workers at the mine are being subjected to.
“These people (Chinese) are so unruly. They are ill treating workers and are so heartless.
“I was sacked from work after we begged them to provide us, at least with protective wear since they could not provide us with decent meals and accommodation whilst on duty,” Tatenda Chikwanha (25), a former truck driver at the Chinese gold mine said.
An excavator operator who declined to be identified fearing victimisation raised alarm over poor working conditions.
“Four days ago police details who are in collusion with our Chinese employer came to the mine accusing workers of stealing fuel yet it is not true.
“Four workers were dismissed after they lodged complaints over abuse and the employer turned violent.
“General hand workers are forced to work in the mine without any protective wear and they are exposed to hazardous chemicals. Our salaries are also not paid in time.”
The worker revealed that protective clothing was distributed recently after some human rights lawyers convened a meeting with the workers and the Chinese employer in Odzi.
According to the excavator operator, after the meeting was convened workers who sustained injuries due to lack of protective wear, were given US$10 each so that they do not divulge any information about their experiences.
Center for Research and Development (CRD), a Manicaland-based natural resources governance civic organisation, says the Chinese mining operations in Odzi are blatantly violating laws that regulate health and safety issues as promulgated in section 403 of the Mines and Minerals Act chapter 21:05.
CRD also noted that when they attended a meeting which was convened at the mine, the manager turned violent as he bragged about his strong connections with political and military executives within the government.
CRD has since alerted the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), ministry of Mines and National Social Security Association (NSSA).
Efforts to get a comment from the Chinese mine manager were fruitless as his mobile number was not reachable.
In a letter dated September 19, seen by this publication, the Zimbabwe Diamond and Allied Minerals Workers Union (ZDAMWU) appealed to the Chinese Embassy in Zimbabwe to intervene and ensure Chinese investors comply with the laws of the country.
“His excellence, there has been a lot of outcry on Chinese investors abusing workers and willful and contemptuous disregard of Zimbabwean Labour laws. In most cases, we heard defenses in support of the Chinese Community that these were isolated incidents. We therefore bring to your attention a specific situation prevailing at Ming Chang Sino Africa Pvt Ltd,” reads part of the letter.
ZDAMWU added: “Employees are dismissed simply because one falls sick, yet section 14 of the Zimbabwean Labour Act guarantees sick leave. They are told to go home until they heal without a salary yet in Zimbabwe we have paid sick leave. For example, one Abishai Nhengo was dismissed yet he was visibly sick and had his medical documents to show for it.
We are therefore bringing to your attention these allegations so that you have a firsthand appreciation that the Chinese investors at Ming Chang Sino Africa are abusing workers and they do not pay due regard to Zimbabwean Laws. The allegations against these investors are not just a smear campaign.”
ZDAMWU general secretary, Justice Chinhema described Ming Chang Sino Africa Investments lawyers as thugs following refusal by the company to comply with the Southern African nation’s labour laws.
“We have come to a stage where we can say Ming Chang Sino Africa Investments’ lawyers are thugs. They do not listen to any legal advice hence the company is running afoul with labour laws.
“They do not want to pay workers as required by the National Employment Council (NEC) and they are not giving workers any protective clothing.
“We approached them so that they give pay advice to workers on what would have been deducted and paid but they have not yet acted on our plea,” Chinhema charged in an interview with NewZimbabwe.com .
He urged the government to establish laws that protect workers adding that Chinese investors must sign an agreement whereby they will pledge to abide by the country’s legislations.
As Chinese Investors are anticipated to increase in Africa following the Africa Belt and Road Initiative, most rights groups have called on the government to put mechanisms that will hold irresponsible investors accountable especially in the extractive sector.