CIVIL Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) firefighters deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to protect that country’s airports are
embroiled in a dispute with their employer over payments during the mission.
The firemen are alleging that CAAZ failed to pay them allowances of US$250 per day as agreed before their deployment and had instead awarded the firemen individual allowances of between US$50 and US$75 per day.
The firemen claimed they worked under appalling conditions with no medical cover, scarce food and long working hours as CAAZ had reneged on its commitment for the agreed payouts.
“Conditions of service were appalling with no medical cover (and) food was scarce. Our allowances were used to purchase food,” said the firemen in a letter to Transport minister Christopher Mushohwe seen by businessdigest.
“We worked extra and abnormal hours and must be compensated by CAAZ as promised. After the whole operation all these concerns were raised but satisfactory answers were never given,” the firemen argued.
The firemen were deployed to the DRC in October 1999 soon after the eruption of a civil war pitting the late Laurent Kabila and Rwanda and Uganda-backed insurgents who had helped him topple the regime of the late Mobutu Sese Seko.
Junior firemen were paid US$75 while high-ranking officers received US$100 per day in allowances.
The amounts were later reviewed downwards to US$50 per firemen, with higher-ranking officers receiving US$75.
CAAZ chief executive officer David Chaota this week said he was not at the helm of the parastatal when the firefighters went to the DRC, and could therefore not discuss anything until the firemen presented their case before him.
Businessdigest understands that some firemen had been paid part of their foreign allowances when they returned to Zimbabwe in 2002.
However, these payments were made in local currency at the ruling official exchange rate in September 2005.
Information obtained by businessdigest indicates that the payments amounted to $5 million per person and these were made after protracted negotiations.
The $5 million per person was said to have been equivalent to seven months’ salaries. The firemen have disputed that these payments were for salaries.