Supporting the Community But Suppressing Workers?

Sino Hydro Corporation workers outside Hwange Power Station in protest over poor working conditions and low salaries. Image by The Citizen Bulletin

BY CALVIN MANIKA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | OCT 30, 2021

Sino Hydro Corporation employees are up in arms over poor salaries and substandard working conditions, the employer denies the allegations and is on a mission to make the community a 'better' place.

HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — Albert Dube (not real name) draws closer to other workmates as a multitude of workers parade, forming a semi-circle assemblage to hear from their representative about the outcome of a meeting between him and the Sino Hydro Corporation management.

Dube is among the workers who are working on the national flagship project at Hwange Power Station expansion, but today they are not working due to poor working conditions and for the past two days they have been on strike.

“This is due to meagre salaries despite increasing prices in most grocery stores. Yet again the Chinese giant employer claims we ask for too much while our basic salaries range from 15 to 25 000 Zimbabwean dollars which amounts to between US$100 to US$125,” says Dube.

Hundreds of Sino Hydro Corporation workers spent 5 days sitting outside the Hwange Power Station in protest over poor working conditions and low salaries. Sino Hydro Corporation and Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) are operating under a special vehicle company called Hwange Electricity Supply Company (HEXCO).

Despite the partnership, the two companies have separate workforces with the former always involved in work-related conflicts. The company is not new to controversy on labour issues with the same disputes recurring.

The strike comes at a time when the government has taken the expansion of Hwange Power Station as a lead project with an expected 600 megawatts (MW) to be added to the national grid when finished. Currently, the power station is performing below 300 MW against the anticipated output of 920MW. Zimbabwe is reeling under power blackouts.

The contractor's treatment of employees seems to derail the progress of the project which is already behind its time frame after being affected by successive COVID-19 induced lockdowns.

Speaking to The Citizen Bulletin, a worker at Sino Hydro Corporation who cannot be named for security reasons says the Chinese employer condemned their action citing that they should apply for a strike.

“But, things will never turn in our favour as they will not approve a strike. And the people continue to suffer like labourers for several working hours with no off days. The company bosses arrived and told people that their sit-in is illegal and they can fire everyone.”
A worker at Sino Hydro Corporation

On October 12 2021, some workers committee members got calls from the police and were informed that they had to apply for a strike or their actions would be illegal. On the same day, Sino Hydro Corporation Limited Company extended its corporate social responsibility to Neshaya Secondary school in Hwange by donating full furniture worth thousands of dollars.

Whilst its workers were on strike, Sino Hydro Corporation Limited Company donated furniture at Neshaya Secondary school. Image by The Citizen Bulletin

The Chinese company donated 500 pairs of furniture units comprising a chair and desk each. Speaking at the handover/takeover ceremony, Engineer Forbes Chanakira, the Project Manager of the Hwange Expansion Project reiterated the importance of the relationship between China and Zimbabwe and Sino Hydro Corporation corporate social responsibility.

Currently, China is the major international supporter of Zimbabwe, with the former having invested in mining, manufacturing and other essential pillars of the economy. One of the disgruntled workers says the gesture is a show of double standards, a bad employer trying to be relevant in the community.

“So I heard they donated furniture. It's a good initiative. But, what about us, its children?”
An unhappy worker

Speaking to this publication Kevin Mawoyo, a labour expert who is also a paralegal officer with the National Mine Workers Union of Zimbabwe (NMWUZ) Hwange Chapter says the issue of unsafe working conditions is clear in terms of the Labour Act under section 104 subsection 4.

Mawoyo argues that if employees have a good cause to believe that the environment they are working under is a threat to their wellbeing they can proceed on a collective job action unlike in instances whereby they have to follow procedures as enshrined in the same Act.

“So I can say the action by Sino Hydro employees were above board considering that it is becoming a pandemic especially in these Chinese owned entities that they are valuing production and profits ahead of safety and welfare and employees.”
Kevin Mawoyo, labour expert and paralegal officer

When reached by this reporter one of the Human Resources Manager at Sino Hydro Corporation, Chengetai Maambira referred questions to Shangdong Company which is a major contractor at Sino Hydro.

Shangdong Human Resources Manager Webster Mazarura says the company always pays National Employment Council standard rates.

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“It is the policy of the company to provide PPE according to legal requirements. And as part of Social Responsibility, every year the company donates to the needy in the society. The donation made to the school has no relation whatsoever with employees going on strike as it was well planned before the employees embarked on strike,” says Mazarura.

After several days of no work, Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) officials on 14 October had a caucus meeting with the Chinese officials. ZPC officials told workers that food allowance and groceries would be introduced without giving much detail.  However, the officials said salaries cannot be reviewed upwards as they are in accordance with National Employment Council (NEC) rates.

Another meeting between the Chinese management and a Labour representative Evans Makusha, the Principal Labour officer for Matabeleland North in the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare was held. The meeting gave light for another meeting to review salaries upwards. Due to pressure, the workers' committee has convinced workers to go back to work while they wait for a stipulated seven days.

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Substandard working conditions, Hwange power station, Sino Hydro Corporation, Neshaya Secondary School, Poor salaries

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