REDCLIFF — Three weeks after suspending salaries for New Zimsteel workers, Essar Africa Holdings have finally given in to pressure from both workers and the government and released another tranche of salaries for the past month.
Human resources manager Dean Chikukwa recently addressed workers at the New Zimsteel plant and told them new major shareholders of New Zimsteel had suspended October salaries until a deal between the government and the Indian firm was sealed.
The deal at that time looked shaky after the Ministry of Mines allegedly reneged on the promise to give Essar Africa Holdings 80% shares in iron ore reserves.
On Saturday, however, workers began accessing salaries as information filtered all outstanding issues between the government and Essar had been resolved and the deal was almost ready to pass the final testing point.
Efforts to obtain comment from Essar were fruitless as their corporate relations manager Sabina Chitewe was not answering her phone or responding to emails despite having promised the company would respond to all queries on time.
NewsDay understands Essar had withheld salaries in an attempt to force the government to move quickly in finalising the deal.
Finance minister Tendai Biti then confirmed the deal was in danger, charging some government officials, including Cabinet ministers, were attempting to block it.
After three months of timely and increased salaries, workers at New Zimsteel had started a new lifestyle with many managing to access credit to buy household property, vehicles and other items.
The sudden withdrawal of salaries had triggered panic in the steel mining town of Redcliff, forcing workers to seek audience with the former owner Ziscosteel board chairman Nyasha Makuvise last Thursday.
“We met the board chairman and discussed the plight of the workers and reminded him of the promise made by Essar that they would not abandon workers.
“We are happy that workers are now getting their salaries again,” said a workers’ representative who refused to be named.
The withdrawal of salaries had also courted the interest of the Central Intelligence Organisation which accused Essar of trying to incite New Zimsteel workers against Zanu PF.
“The workers had adjusted to a new lifestyle and withdrawing salaries is a threat to peace and security particularly in Redcliff. We are watching the situation closely,” said an operative.