SPECIAL REPORT: Hwange Colliery on fire – Corruption, Unpaid Hungry [with PICTURES]

>> 19 months without pay
>> Hunger stalks workers
>> Corruption, cronyism rife

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That Hwange Colliery Company workers have gone for a consecutive 12 months without salary, despite the coal mine being in production, is just one of the myriad of challenges facing the stock market-listed entity.

\n\nMost of the equipment and machinery at Hwange Colliery Company has been left to rot because the company is failing to service and maintain them\nPictures that they wouldn’t want you to see\nPictures that they wouldn’t want you to see\nPictures that they wouldn’t want you to see\nPictures that they wouldn’t want you to see\nPictures that they wouldn’t want you to see\nPictures that they wouldn’t want you to see\nPictures that they wouldn’t want you to see\nPictures that they wouldn’t want you to see\nPictures that they wouldn’t want you to see\n\n

Whilst on one hand the workers allege a cocktail of administrative shortcomings, the management cites, among a number of reasons, the coming on board of new coal miners (which has increased competition for coal and its by-products), low production levels, which in turn has affected cash flows.

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Given the sensitive nature of the problems facing Hwange Colliery, the names of the workers in this story have been withheld and in other instances masked, to protect their work interests. And interestingly, senior management was not at the colliery on Monday to answer to the questions raised by workers. This is something the workers say has become almost routine, that senior management works through remote control.

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Questions sent on Tuesday to Thomas Makore, the managing director, had not been responded to by the time of going to print, despite repeated — and spirited — attempts to have the questions answered. The problems facing the coal-mining giant have been historic, as much as they have been gradual in occurrence, so the majority of the workers surmise.

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“The problems started around June 2012 when an AGM was held and the meeting pushed for the ouster of the Tendai Savanhu-led board, whilst on the other hand the board insisted that they had done much for the company and could not leave just like that,” said Emmanuel (not his real name), who has an intimate and chronological knowledge of how the relations between management and workers have soured over the years.

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When the board was finally removed, a development which also saw the departure of Fred Moyo, who was the managing director, the workers say that was the last time they received decent — and predictable — salaries. At about the same time, the company had embarked on an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), a computerisation programme of some sort, which saw employees being made redundant. To cover the retrenchments, a loan of $6,4 million was secured for severance packages. “Interestingly, that money, when it was released, did not go towards the intended purpose and was converted to other uses,” added Emmanuel.

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The net effect was that the company ended up sitting on a loan needed to be serviced and workers who remained on the company’s wage bill.

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As the level of corporate mis-governance grew, 12 Volvo trucks were imported at about the same time, with only eight making the final journey to the mine from Beitbridge border post. The whereabouts of the other four remain a mystery up to this day. “Even when the insurer came to make a physical audit of the Volvo trucks, they were shocked that HCC was paying insurance for 10 Volvo trucks yet on the ground there were eight trucks,” added Emmanuel.

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With Fred Moyo having left the company in September 2012, Stanford Ndlovu was the acting managing director from then until he was relieved in August 2013. “From January to March 2013,” explained Susan, who has been employed for close to 20 years by the colliery, “we were receiving our salaries normally. Though we would get paid by the 10th or 15th of the month, but still we got paid. From April to August, we received nothing.”

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So when Jemester Chininga was appointed to act in the hot seat, taking over from Ndlovu, he promised the workers that he would start on a clean slate, and that workers should not bother about what had happened in the past. “In short, what he said was that he shouldn’t be bothered by the mistakes of his predecessors and thus should not be judged as such. He promised us our September salaries, being the month he was going to be fully in charge,” explained Susan.

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Despite Chininga’s promises, Hwange Colliery Company failed to pay its workers their salaries for the months of September, October, November and December 2013. “The so-called September salaries came in October and that was it. The whole of 2014 we are yet to be paid,” chipped in another worker.

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When Thomas Makore, the current managing director, came on board in May 2014, he came with his bag of promises, saying that he would start honouring the workers’ dues as from September last year. “Makore promised us that in September he would pay us one month’s salary, in October one-and-half-months’ salary and from November onwards two months’ salary until all arrears had been settled,” said Susan.

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It turned out to be another bag of hot air, as up to now the workers have received nothing. Addressing the workers in an internal memo on November 11 2014, Makore said management took full responsibility for not honouring its obligations.

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“This was due to the disappointing low production volumes achieved for the month of September. As a result of this poor performance, the revenue inflows were also very low and far from the target. As we increase our production volumes and sales, we should be able to meet the regular payment of staff salaries. While we work towards this goal, the company has taken into consideration (the) implementation of “Plan B”, which was recently discussed with the Workers’ Leadership,” reads part of the memo.

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“Plan B” saw the workers getting $200 across the board to cushion them. The November 2014 pay-out of $200 to each employee was the last time the 3 000-strong workforce of Hwange Colliery Company got any remuneration. Periodically, though, they get food rations, which include mealie meal, sugar beans, sugar, cooking oil, bar of soap and flour. Though the understanding was that the rations were supposed to be monthly, the most recent distribution was last week, with the one before it coming last year in September.

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What the workers are failing to understand is how and why they are failing to be paid, when the company is supplying Zesa with coal for power generation every month. “We have been tasked to extract 300 000 tonnes of coal per month, with Mota Engil (a contractor) tasked to extract 150 000 tonnes per month, bringing together 450 000 tonnes of coal.

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“As much as the workers are committed to meeting the target, they cannot because the equipment is not there. Most of the trucks, dumpers and excavators are lying idle, the company having failed to service and maintain them. As for Mota Engil, even if they meet their target, the coal is going to waste because HCC does not have the capacity to move the coal. Mota Engil just extracts and heaps the coal, with the task of moving the coal to the processing plant lying in HCC’s hands. But as it is, the coal is just going to waste as it melts in the sun.”

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The workers are equally peeved that of their monthly target of 120 000 tonnes to Zesa, which they religiously meet every month, bringing in revenue inflows of $3,6 million, against a monthly salary bill of $2,6 million, they still remain unpaid. “These are the questions that we want management to answer but no one is ever there to answer us. Either senior management is always absent, attending this or that meeting in Harare, or they have divided the workers such that there is no longer unity of purposes among workers.

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“For instance, each department has now been asked to meet its salary obligations, realising these salaries from each department’s services. For example, the Estates Department, which oversees the issue of houses and properties owned by HCC was the first one out of the blocks, managing to pay its workers their January salaries, from rents collected. Yet the Estates Department is but part and parcel of the whole Hwange Colliery Company. So where do us, who are producing the coal, which we don’t know where and how it is being sold, are going to be paid from?” asked Emmanuel.

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The issue of gross financial indiscipline by management, as seen by Hwange workers, goes beyond their salaries, as the company has also neglected the issue of worker welfare. The workers say they no longer have funeral cover, as the company which used to provide the cover has since withdrawn its services over non-remittal of deducted subscriptions. The same goes for medical aid cover, which the employees no longer enjoy, with management arguing that employees could still be treated at the company’s hospital.

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“But you will be lucky to get more than just Paracetamol at the hospital, which at one time was one of the best hospitals in the country,” that from another of the disgruntled workers.

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**[Pictures by Believe Nyakudjara]