The Herald (Harare)

14 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Essar Workers' Challenges Continue to Mount

Challenges facing over 3 500 Essar workers in Redcliff continue to mount as it emerged that those whose children were in Grade Seven last year failed to proceed to Form One after schools withhel results insisting on parents settling outstanding fees first.

Some workers also claimed that their terminally ill colleagues were succumbing to the ailments as they were taking medication without eating adequate food.

Workers said they were not paid by Essar during the Christmas holidays as promised last year except quarter salaries Zisco Steel paid them in November.

The outstanding salaries due to workers as at November last year had reached more than US$25 million.

It is understood that hundreds of their children failed to get Form One places as schools demanded result slips and fees deposits.

Those who sat for Ordinary Level examinations are unlikely to collect their results when they are out unless the outstanding fees are settled.

Workers unions representatives said challenges mounted by day as several workers and their dependants were dying at an alarming rate as a result of hunger.

"There is a disaster here because of lack of salaries," said Zisco Joint Unions chairman Mr Benedict Moyo.

"Hundreds of children who wrote their Grade Seven examinations are at home as they could not collect their results because the company has not paid fees for last term.

"For one to get a Form One place, schools were also demanding fees upfront. We tried to convince headmasters that they were going to be paid but they insisted that they wanted the money first for them to release the results."

He said schools were also turning away their children because of fees arrears.

Mr Moyo said Zisco failed to pay school fees for last term, a development that resulted in schools chasing their children away.

Mr Moyo said death rate from chronic diseases was growing at an alarming rate among workers and their dependants.

"The rate of dying among workers and their dependants is too high. We have about five people dying every week. Some of these people have chronic illnesses, which require that they eat food before taking tablets. But where do they get the food when they are not being paid? This has forced them to take pills without eating anything. Some of them are dying because of hunger," said Mr Moyo.

He said workers were concerned with bread and butter issues.

Zisco Artisans Union chairperson Mr Obert Shoko said their children were the most affected as their future had been shattered.

"Most children of Zisco workers are not going to school because the company didn't pay fees for last term.

"The whole generation's future has been shattered. Most of them failed to collect their Grade Seven results meaning that they could not go to Form One since they did not have result slips and fees for Form One as schools wanted fees upfront. These children shouldn't be deprived of their future.

"Most schools in and around Kwekwe and Redcliff including those in other areas, for instance Rio Tinto, St Patricks schools among others have turned away our children," said Mr Shoko.

He said doctors and hospitals were rejecting their medical aid cards, resulting in some of them dying at home.

A member of the supervisory management association who requested anonymity concurred with his colleagues about the appalling situation they faced as workers. He said they were paid a quarter of their monthly salaries by Zisco and not Essar at the end of November.

"Essar has not paid us anything since March. We read in the paper that Essar was going to pay us something for the Christmas holidays but they did not. We were paid quarter salaries by Zisco in November, which meant that the least paid was entitled to US$25 but they decided to give them US$70 while the highest paid got about US$200."

Some artisans who spoke to The Herald said hunger was affecting them seriously. "We go to work daily from 8am to 4pm but we won't be doing anything. We are not given any food at work.

"Sometime in December two employees collapsed on their way to work and when they were taken to hospital and it was discovered that it was because of hunger. One of them later died," said an artisan who declined to be named.

Another one added: "Government should move with speed and conclude whatever needs to be sorted out before things get out of hand. People are dying because of hunger.

"We cannot do part-time work like we used to do at Zimasco because we will be detained at work doing nothing. Zimasco has also scaled down on operations so they are not doing part-timers anymore."

The workers also complained that they were sent on forced leave in December, eating into their days.

The workers at Zisco now Essar have not been paid since March last year after the investor argued that they wanted guarantee of mining rights at Mwanesi where the iron ore has not yet been tapped.

This followed concerns by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development that Essar was getting the iron ore deposits worth US$30 billion when the company only paid US$750 million.

The ministries of Mines and Mining Development and Industry and Commerce are now expected to do a joint exploration to see the value of deposits at Mwanesi.

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