Kawambwa Tea Company workers and managers have called on the Government to retain 51% shares when it repossesses the company, to partner with a new equity investor.
Luapula province minister Davies Mwila said the government will in the next thirty days announce the fate of the foreign investor who has failed to manage Kawambwa Tea Company from the time it was privatised.
Workers and management staff at the weekend held separate meetings with a delegation of government officials led by Mwila, who was on a fact-finding mission.
During the meetings workers and managers alleged the current owners of Kawambwa Tea Company, Kumul Holdings of Zimbabwe, was failing to run the company which needed urgent recapitalisation as a way of saving it from liquidation.
National Union for Agriculture and Plantation Workers acting branch chairperson Wellington Mwewa, said workers were owed 13 months’ salary arrears, while the company owed Zesco K60 million in unsettled electricity bills and that electricity had since been disconnected at the company.
Mwewa said 48 employees who were retired two years ago were still waiting for their terminal benefits.
He alleged there was asset stripping going on because some company equipment like industrial water pumps had allegedly been taken to Zimbabwe and never brought back.
“As workers we have suffered a lot from 2002 when this investor bought the company and we now demand that the government should repossess the company and look for another serious investor to take over the company.
Once a new investor is found the government should make sure that it retains 51% of the shares as a way of safeguarding the interests of the Zambian people,” Mwewa said.
Factory manager John Bunda said the company owners owed management employees 39 months’ salary arrears and there was no hope that the company would be revived.
Bunda said production had drastically declined from 912 tonnes to 500 tonnes last year.
Things worsened in 2011 when production target dropped to 300 tonnes.
He said 412 workers working in the company’s plantations stopped reporting for work on October 20 this year and were now waiting for the government to repossess the company from the investor.
Mwila said the government was aware that Kwamwambwa Tea Company was not only failing to pay its employees, but that it also owed the statutory bodies such as the National Pensions Scheme Authority, the Zambia Revenue Authority millions of Kwacha.
He said government was determined to address the problems being faced by the tea company within the shortest possible period because any delays could lead to the company being liquidated.
“As provincial minister I have gathered a lot of information about the problems the company is facing after having separate meetings with management officials and unionised employees,” said Mwewa.