Water Resources Management and Development minister Samuel Sipepa Nkomo has condemned poor working conditions and abuse of employees by a Chinese contractor, China Nanchang, working on the Mtshabezi-Umzingwane dams link pipeline.
This follows the death of one of the workers, Charles Moyo, in an accident two weeks ago and complaints by some of the workers that company officials in charge of the project were abusive.
Moyo died on the spot when the walls of a 10 metre-deep pipeline caved in on him and five other colleagues while laying pipes.
Sipepa, who visited the deceased’s family last Thursday in the company of the permanent secretary in the ministry, Ringson Chitsiko, presented $1 000 to the family to cover funeral expenses.
Moyo’s colleagues yesterday told NewsDay the company exposed them to dangerous working conditions and made them work without protective clothing.
“At times we do rock-blasting without any form of protective clothing. Some even work without shoes. A number have sustained cuts on their hands from carrying fragments of rocks with bare hands while others have sustained various injuries because we are not given any form of protective clothing,” said one of the workers who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The company’s 46 employees alleged they were paid $4 per day and were sometimes forced to work on weekends without overtime allowances.
The workers said they were made to travel more than 10km to work on foot.
They also accused the contractor of deducting money from salaries of those who attended Moyo’s funeral wake last week.
“We did not sign any formal contracts and if the contractor decides to stop us from working, they just tell you to stop coming to work,” said Tapson Nyathi, one of the workers.
He said one of the Chinese nationals at the site was abusive and at one time kicked a driver for refusing to follow his orders.
“The problem is that these people do not understand our language and they give instructions, some of which are unreasonable and they expect us to follow them. One day a crane driver refused to lay pipes as the crane had its hydraulics damaged and one of the Chinese contractors kicked him accusing him of failing to do his job,” said Nyathi.
“The driver had to turn back to avoid further attack by the Chinese,” he said.
Nkomo said the abuse of the workers was unacceptable.
“We cannot allow these members of the contractors to abuse the locals. I am going to talk with the head contractor so that this stops otherwise those who abuse the workers will have to leave the site,” he said.
He also suggested that the workers form a union that would present their grievances to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority’s Umzingwane catchment manager Tommy Rosen.
No comment could be obtained from the Chinese contractor at the time of going to print.