ESSAR Africa Holdings is under no obligation to pay salaries for Zisco workers until the ownership of the giant steel company has been transferred to New Zim Steel, Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube has said.
This comes at a time when challenges facing the workers continue to mount after hundreds of their children, in Grade Seven last year, failed to proceed to Form One after schools withheld results insisting that parents settle outstanding fees first.
There are indications that CBZ Bank wanted to deduct a quarter of salaries meant for the workers in November.
Minister Ncube said the workers remained under Zisco until the deal was concluded. "Workers will remain under Zisco- steel until New Zim Steel takes over when the deal has been concluded," said Minister Ncube. "When that happens, then Essar will take most of the costs based on their 53 percent majority shareholding in the new company.
"It is the new company that will have the responsibility to pay workers. We can't go to Essar and say 'pay workers' when we haven't sorted our side of the bargain. We can't expect one side of the deal to be applied when the other has not.
"The agreement requires that we do our part as Government, but we have taken two years to sort our side of the bargain. Essar is not under any obligation to pay until this deal has been concluded. Once the deal has been finalised, everything will fall into place and the issue of workers' salaries will be sorted out."
He said Essar, who had promised to be on the ground this month, was waiting for Government to honour its part of the deal.
Meanwhile, Minister Ncube said Essar Holdings had provided money to supplement the quarter salaries that Ziscosteel paid the workers in November.
He said the workers would receive a quarter of their salaries, which meant they would have received 50 percent. Ncube said this was just an interim measure to enable the workers to enjoy the Christmas holidays.
"The Essar money went through (last) Friday and is being processed at the moment. I am told Zisco has withdrawn the money to pay them. I am sure they would be paid in cash by Friday.
"This was just an interim measure so that workers could have something for the holidays. The permanent solution is to conclude this deal. I remain optimistic that things will work out," said Minister Ncube.
He acknowledged that CBZ wanted to garnish the Ziscosteel money that was meant for the workers because of an overdue overdraft.
But the chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Industry and Commerce, Mr William Mutomba, said both Essar and Government were supposed to consider the plight of workers.
"This bickering is costing workers while at the same time Government is losing revenue because we are importing steel when we should be exporting," he said. "Workers are the most affected by this delay. They are the ones who are suffering."
Mr Mutomba said there was a need for Essar to resume operations while the deal was being finalised.
He said the New Zim Steel deal was separate from the New Zim Minerals ones, adding that the problems at the latter were not supposed to affect the former.
"We don't understand why Essar is not on the ground because Cabinet has already made a commitment to the deal that was signed. If they were really committed they should have resumed operations to alleviate the suffering that employees are subjected to. Why are they holding back? Joint exploration can take about two to three months so are they not resuming operations before that? said Mr Mutomba.
He said there were several loopholes in the initial deal, as some of the interested ministries were not consulted during negotiations.
Such deals, he said, were supposed to be done diligently to avoid clashes with other ministries.
Some workers and their representatives last week claimed that their terminally ill colleagues were succumbing to the ailments as they were taking medication without eating enough food, while their children were being turned away from schools because of outstanding fees.
It is understood that hundreds of the children failed to get Form One places as schools demanded result slips and fees deposits.