CHINHOYI — A cold war is brewing between mine workers and their Chinese employers over allegations of exploitation, violation of both labour and environmental laws at their workplace in Mashonaland West.
By Nhau Mangirazi
Detroop Mine is situated about 170km north west of Harare under Chief Magonde in Makonde district along Angwa River. The gold mine practises both open cast and underground mining.
It is run by a Chinese company — Jiangxi Risheng Mining company — which started operations in 2014. The company employs 95 contract and 70 casual workers.
Disenchanted workers last week gave horrid tales of worker abuse by senior management who are also accused of demanding $50 from every worker every month as payment for job security.
A female worker who requested anonymity for fear of victimisation alleged gender-based discrimination, saying she was paid less than her male workmates and was not provided with adequate protective clothing.
The mother of three said she earned $80 per month because the employer said it did not make sense for women to earn as much as their male counterparts, doing the same job, who receive $246 per month.
‘‘Our employers openly told us that women do not need protective clothing and that our salary could not equal our male workmates,’’ she said.
Some of the women, she said, worked as laboratory assistants at the mine. Workers at the mine said they suspected that government official who came to investigate their complaints were paid by mine management to silence them because each time they came, abundant evidence of worker abuse was provided and they saw most of it with their own eyes, but they ended up doing reports exonerating the mine management.
The mine officials denied these allegations but another worker insisted in an interview last week: “The Chinese and management even brag that they pay as little as $20 to silence the government officials. We have now lost confidence and are suspicious of anyone who comes here to hear our grievances”.
Mine manager Carlos Tembo denied that they demanded job security fees from workers and also dismissed other allegations of abuse and bribery as unfounded.
‘‘I am yet to get information on the alleged security fees demanded by management but right now we are working on new contract forms for workers which were recently approved in the new grading system provided by the National Employment Council, NEC, in the mining sector. But of course there could be some truth to some of the complaints by workers which I cannot confirm or deny,’’ said Tembo.
He said the allegations could be coming from local villagers were illegal gold miners and did not want to be fully employed at the mine.
“A majority of the villagers here are gold panners who ply their trade along Angwa River and those of them who eventually decide to come here for full time employment they are surprised by the long working hours and end up complaining of ill-treatment or abuse,” said Tembo.
A director at the company, identified only as Mr Lee maintained the abuse allegations were false, saying that in fact all the workers were happily employed.
However, Nathan Nyansiku, a mine agent said he has been pushing hard to find peace between the mine workers and their employers.
‘‘It is true that the workers do not have adequate protective clothing and am right now fighting for the rights of the workers’ to be provided with such basic needs at the workplace,” said Nyansiku in a telephone interview from Shurugwi.
‘‘We are also working on modalities of appropriately grading the workers to differentiate between skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers for the purposes of remuneration and other benefits.”
An official from NEC identified only as Tahwa was not answering his mobile phone besides repeated efforts.
Workers committee chairman Noah Bikita last week said the workers were not happy with the conditions of service at the mine.
‘‘As Zimbabweans, we do observe national holidays. We are also concerned that we do not have protective clothing, including work suits, gumboots and masks to protect workers from underground dust. On top of that, workers are not being paid for leave days accrued, although they are sometimes forced to work long periods without going on leave,’’ said Bikita.
Environment Management Agency, EMA, also voiced their concern last week after visiting the mine. EMA Mashonaland West education and publicity officer Munyaradzi Nhariswa said the agency had undertaken a joint investigation operation with other government departments to assess the environment impact of the activities at the mine.
‘‘I can confirm some environmental violations activities at Detroop Mine. On May 17, we conducted a joint compliance inspection with the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, Makonde Rural District Council, police, Fidelity Printers and Ministry of Mines with the broader aim of finding lasting solutions to the issue. As EMA, we are concerned with unsustainable mining practices along Angwa River through mining operations close to river and failure to rehabilitate mined out areas which puts the river under risk of siltation and contamination’’ said Nhariswa.
‘‘In light of these issues, we served the mine with an environmental protection order directing the mine to cease operations, pending redress of the above issues. The order was confirmed by the Director of the Agency in terms of section 37 (7) of the Environmental Management Act Cap 20:27. The mine was also penalised for these environmental violations.
“Since then we have been to the mine again to check compliance with the order. As EMA, we are concerned with such unsustainable mining activities as they have adverse effects on the livelihoods of the local community and those downstream.’’
Nhariswa said the mine was discharging sludge from its milling plant into the slime dams situated close to the banks of Angwa River and there was “failure by the project proponent to put in place the necessary environmental protection measures at the slimes dams and tailings dump”.
The workers said they feared they would lose out if the employer was not forced to comply with labour laws that protected them against abuse, under payment and other bad labour practices.