Chinese miner in workers ill-treatment storm

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By Felix Matasva I Manicaland Correspondent

A Chinese-run gold mining company operating in the Odzi peri-urban area of Mutare district has been accused of ill-treating workers and flouting the country’s labour laws and regulations.

Registered as Odzi Resources Zimbabwe Private Limited while trading as Ming Chang Sino Africa Investments, the company runs a number of gold mines across the country, including in Mashava, Mbalabala, Bulawayo, Kwekwe and Mazowe.

A former worker who was recently fired by the Chinese employer after speaking out against abuse has claimed that rampant ill-treatment of workers at the Odzi mine.

“These people (Chinese) are ill-treating workers and are (incredibly) heartless,” said Tatenda Chikwanha (25) who was employed as a truck driver.

“I was sacked from work after we begged them to provide us with protective wear since they could not provide us with decent meals and accommodation whilst on duty.”

An excavator operator who declined to be identified fearing victimisation also raised alarm over poor working conditions.

“Four days ago police details who are working in collusion with our Chinese employer came at the mine accusing workers of stealing fuel yet this was not true,” he said.

“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.”

US$10 hush payments

The worker revealed that protective clothing was only distributed recently after some human rights lawyers convened a meeting with the workers and the Chinese employer.

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.

The Centre for Research and Development (CRD), a Manicaland-based natural resources governance organisation says the Chinese mining operations in Odzi were blatantly violating laws that regulate health and safety issues.

CRD also noted that when they attended a meeting 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 Authority (NSSA).

When reached for a comment, Ming Chang Sino Africa Investments translator, Liu Pliu directed questions to Odzi mine manager, Fraction Chininga who said he was off-duty when the human rights lawyers convened a meeting at the mine.

“When the police came I was not around but I can confirm that a lot of diesel was being stolen,” he said.

“After the meeting (with the lawyers) was convened, I called for a meeting with all general hands to hear their concerns, but they told us they were not facing any challenges.

“The Chinese and local workers are staying in almost similar rooms. Dust is unavoidable due to mining operations.

He refuted allegations that workers were being forced to work under poor conditions, saying every staff member was recruited after being furnished with the terms of reference.

“All our workers are over 18 years-old, hence they are able to make their own decisions.

“If they do not tell us their challenges at work the company would not know their circumstances.”

Chininga noted that the company is aware of one incident whereby a young man sustained injuries and was given US$10 as compensation.

“The company was running short of PPE (personal protective equipment) so, we could not allocate to a few workers as it would seem like we are favouring. We have since procured PPE and every worker has been allocated,” he said.

“Only one person was burnt by lime but he had not reported the incident to supervisors. He said he was well and the Chinese gave him $10 as compensation; not to muzzle him.”

Chinese Embassy appeal

Meanwhile, in a letter dated September 19, and 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 an outcry on Chinese investors abusing workers and wilful and contemptuous disregard of Zimbabwean Labour laws,” the union said.

“In most cases, we heard defences in support of the Chinese community that these were isolated incidences. We therefore bring to your attention a specific situation prevailing at Ming Chang Sino Africa Pvt Ltd.

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 specific 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 first-hand 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 added; “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.”

He challenged government to establish laws that protect workers, adding that Chinese investors must be made to sign an agreement whereby they will pledge to abide by the country’s legislations.