By Staff Reporter
GOVERNMENT must take lessons from Covid-19 lockdown experiences to fine tune policies meant to protect ordinary workers from apparent injustice during emergency situations.
These sentiments were expressed by rights group, Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG) in its assessment of workers’ rights in the mining sector during the current lockdown period.
According to the group’s findings, while some mining firms have taken steps to comply with the health and safety regulations, some are still exposing their workers to the dangers of contracting coronavirus.
The World Health Health Organisation (WHO) and government have issued recommendations for employers to ensure safety for employees against Covid-19 through placing sanitisers within workplaces, screening and testing of workers.
However, in its assessment, the NGO noted that “companies like Hwange Colliery Company, Surewing, Zhintin (Mutoko) and Anjin Investments (Marange) have been making piecemeal commitments to health and safety of the employees.
“In Mutoko, Surewing and Zhintin reportedly compromised the safety of employees by ignoring these stipulated health measures.
“The two companies did not provide hand sanitisers and masks while social distance was not observed.
“It took the intervention of police and a local legislator, the District Administrator Isaiah Mukamba and local health officials for the situation to be improved,” said CNRG.
The group said the company violated Statutory Instrument 99 of 2020 Public Health (Covid 19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment (National Lockdown) Order, 2020.
CNRG said the country`s biggest coal miner, Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL) only started providing masks to employees on May 11 and workers were not screened while at Anjin, Marange, employees complained of poor living conditions.
“Workers at Anjin said they have been camped at the company premises since the lockdown started.
“About 40 people are forced to share one facility for eating, sleeping, bathing, thereby making it difficult to observe social distancing even after working hours.
“The company has also not provided masks which are mandatory under Level 2 of the lockdown,” said CNRG.
The rights group also said some mining firms were also operating beyond the stipulated business operational hours.
According to S1 99, all businesses must operate from 8am to 3pm “except for good cause” that they can prove to law enforcement agents.
“However, all coal mining companies in Hwange are operating for more than the stipulated working hours.
“In Mutoko, all the companies have been operating from 7am to 5pm since the beginning of the lockdown.
“The companies are Natural Stone, CRG quarries, IIford, Red Granite Pvt Ltd, Zimbabwe International Quarries, Surewing, Zhintin and Quarrying Enterprise,” said CNRG.
Anjin Investments in Marange is reported to have been operating for 12 hours in clear violation of the rules.
“From all the projects sites, CNRG is working, it is only Bikita Minerals and Murowa Diamonds which are observing operating times in SI 99,” said CNRG.
It also said there are reports of harassment and unfair labour practices by mining companies during the lockdown period.
“There are reports of victimisation of an employee in a Chinese owned mining company and HCCL is evicting over 100 former employees from company accommodation. These companies are reportedly reluctant to observe local labour laws and uphold basic human rights,” said the rights group.
CNRG said it is clear that there regulatory and policies gap in government response to Covid 19, as well as implementation gaps in the execution of the lockdown.
“We recommend that government convenes a Tripartite Negotiating Forum to discuss the conduct of employers and employees during the lockdown. The Parliament should amend the Labour Act to provide for the conduct of employers and employees during emergencies,” said CNRG.
It also recommended for enforcement of punitive and deterrent measures for companies that violates the health and safety of workers during emergency situations.