10 July 2012

Zimbabwe: ZESA Workers Threaten to Switch Off Power

ZESA Holdings workers countrywide have threatened to switch off Zimbabwe in the next 24 hours if management fails to honour a salary award the employees won during a voluntary arbitration process this year.

The more than 7 000 workers and their management entered into salary negotiations in December last year that culminated in a signed Collective Bargaining Agreement on January 27 this year.

The agreement was reportedly entered into after the intervention of Energy and Power Development Minister Elton Mangoma.

The workers are demanding US$275 for the lowest paid employee up from US$190 per month.

However, management refused to honour the agreement before the two parties went for a voluntary arbitration process, which came out in favour of the workers.

The management promised to pay the workers but last Friday Zesa Holdings group chief executive officer Engineer Josh Chifamba, wrote to the workers informing them that the company would not be able to pay them as it was in a "precarious financial position."

"We wish to advise that in the view of the group's precarious financial position, it is not possible at this stage to implement the arbitral award.

"It is against this background that we have approached the National Employment Council for an exemption," read part of Eng Chifamba's letter dated July 06 2012.

Addressing journalists in Harare yesterday, Zimbabwe Energy Workers Union president, Mrs Angelina Chitambo, said Zesa workers countrywide would switch off power before going on strike if management fail to meet their demands in 24 hours.

The union has more than 7 000 members.

"We are failing to make ends meet and some misguided senior managers have shown their arrogance by refusing us what we deserve," she said.

"Efforts to engage the management since last Friday have been fruitless and we are left with no option except downing tools.

"After the award we thought management would come up with a payment plan since the money would be backdated to January but to our surprise they have made an about turn without an explanation."

Mrs Chitambo said it was impossible for management to apply for exemption at the National Employment Council because it was a lower board.

"That is impossible and to us going back to NEC is just a way of buying time.

"We have a lot of ordinary workers and engineers at various stations who are earning salaries that are far below the poverty datum line," she said.

Mrs Chitambo said senior Zesa managers were living large at a time ordinary workers were suffering.

"We were reliably informed that managers in Grade D3 upwards were recently awarded thousands of dollars as back pay and there is nothing for the ordinary worker."

Mrs Chitambo said the workers were calling for the ouster of Eng Chifamba saying he was "out of touch" with Zesa programmes.

She said Zesa was failing to pay the workers because of "mismanagement" of funds by senior managers.

"It is not that Zesa has no money. Zesa's money is used wrongly by those in charge and if not stopped the company will continue to go down the drain," he said.

The Ministry through the then secretary, Mr Justin Mupamhanga, had written to Eng Chifamba advising him that collective bargaining negotiations should be done across the industry and come up with a minimum industrial wage rate.

The matter was heard before independent arbitrators, Mr George Makings representing Zesa Holdings and Professor Lovemore Madhuku representing the workers.

Efforts to get a comment from Eng Chifamba were fruitless as he was said to be out of the country on official business.

Zesa spokesperson, Mr Fullard Gwasira declined to comment.

"Zesa does not discuss conditions of service with the media. It is a confidential matter and I can not comment," he said.

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