Strike looms as Hwange Colliery abandons wage arrears payment deal

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By Alois Vinga

HWANGE Colliery Company Limited (HCCL) has failed to honour the salary arrears clearance deal which was struck with its employees in a development that is likely to reignite the need for a second wave of collective job action if combative measures are not put in place on time.

Early this year, the spouses of HCCL workers broke the record on the country’s collective job action approach when they staged a demonstration which lasted 98 days in a bid to pressure the coal mining giant to clear the salary arrears owed to their husbands.

This move culminated in an agreement being reached by HCCL and the National Mine Workers Union of Zimbabwe (NMWUZ) to the effect that workers would receive a part of the owed salaries while getting the current salaries.

However, the employees’ legal representative NMWUZ secretary general, Sylvester Mushaike told Business, Wednesday that HCCL is not sticking to the agreement.

“They promised to pay the current monthly salaries and a part of the salary arrears which they are not doing anymore as they are now only honouring the current monthly salaries obligations. We have since requested to meet the entity’s management and we will be mapping the way forward after getting their side of the story,” he said.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) national organising secretary, Michael Kandukutu who played a pivotal role at the height of the HCCL spouses demonstration described the developments on the ground as unfortunate.

“The employer just paid the arrears for the first two months and in the last two months nothing has been paid. This is a worrying development considering that other creditors are being paid on time.

One then wonders why the company has such disregard towards its committed workers who went for years without receiving any salary. If the company fails to avail convincing reasons when we meet them I think it will soon be time for the colliery’s workers to down tools and demand their salaries,” he said.

Contacted for comment, HCCL Corporate Affairs Manager, Rugare Dobbie said that she was not in a position to comment on the matter.

“I am away on leave and I cannot provide a comment on the issue, try to get hold of other officials,” she said.

However, other HCCL lines went unanswered and at the time of publishing no response had been secured.

In 2016, HCCL announced that it was in financial dire straits after the entity’s balance sheet revealed that total liabilities exceeded total assets by $168 million. It noted that lenders were unwilling to extend any financial assistance.

“The company during the year faced serious liquidity challenges with financial institutions and creditors unwilling to extend lines of credit,” read the company’s 2016 financial results.

The shortage of working capital to purchase critical inputs and spares has constrained the company’s capacity utilisation with total raw coal mined declining by 37,78 percent to 969,153 tons relative to 1,557,567 tons in 2015.

The challenges have spilled over to the current years which has seen HCCL management contemplating to sell the Hwange town in a bid to raise capital.