Reports of workers holding their employers hostage, including the company owner, a Chinese national Nianhai Zheng, at a chrome mine in Gweru last week, appear to indicate our Chinese friends may not have taken heed of warnings, coming through numerous media reports, not to ill-treat their workers or to take them for granted.
More than 200 angry workers locked their bosses in their offices overnight last Friday, demanding their June salaries and other dues owed to them by the Chinese company.
Worse things could have happened to the company management had they not called in riot police for protection.
The general manager of the company, Tendayi Kawanzaruwa, reportedly confirmed the workers were owed up to $174 000 in June salaries and backpay.
He said the company was failing to pay salaries because of viability problems and that there were plans to sell off company assets to settle the arrears.
The employees, represented by their workers’ committee chairperson Prosper Rubvute, said they had been angered by the company’s false promises.
“We had agreed that management settles outstanding salary arrears on June 14, but they kept on changing dates,” Rubvute said.
Incidents where workers hold their bosses hostage for unpaid salaries are not entirely non-existent in Zimbabwe, but they are very isolated. Usually when this happens, the workers’ patience would have been stretched to the limit.
Given reports of how Chinese companies, which have come to Zimbabwe in droves in recent years, have trashed the country’s labour laws, underpaying while overworking their employees and going to the extent of beating them up for spurious reasons, one would hardly be surprised there was this “uprising” at the chrome mine in the Midlands.
Chinese companies have made a very bad name for themselves by the manner most of them treat their workers.
Workers’ unions all over the country are dealing with countless complaints against Chinese employers who are accused of violating labour laws and, after that, boasting nothing would happen to them because they have connections in government.
The advice that our Asian friends need to take is to change their attitude towards their workers and start treating them as human beings with flesh and blood.
If, in their own country, workers are treated like tireless machines that can be paid anything an employer or government wishes, the situation in Zimbabwe is quite different.
Zimbabweans are an educated lot and many of the workers employed by these foreigners have “O” and “A” Level qualifications and are only working as labourers because their country has been ruined to levels where unemployment has reduced graduates to tea-pickers.
If they do not change their ways and want to continue ill-treating their workers in the dehumanising manner that most of them are accused of, they must be warned the time of reckoning will come and one day they will wish they had not made the long trip across continents carrying their unacceptable behaviour.