ISSUES of unfair labour practices, underpayment of wages and failure to provide standard safety in violation of labour laws continue to plague thousands of locals employed by Chinese companies in the country.
BY TAFADZWA MUTACHA
Most brick moulding and manufacturing companies in Mt Hampden, Harare are largely owned by Chinese business people who are accused of — apart from rampantly abusing employees — failing to help develop the community in which they operate.
With available statistics inching toward an unofficial 90% unemployment rate, desperation has seen many locals flocking to these companies in search of jobs.
One of the companies — Golden Brick Enterprises Pvt Ltd — was number 209 on the list of importers that reportedly externalised money, to the tune of $126,558 out of the country, according to a list that originated from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office.
Workers for these companies told NewsDay Weekender that their employers took advantage of the prevailing harsh economic environment to exploit them as sources of cheap labour while exposing them to harsh working conditions.
“We work without gloves, helmets, overalls or safety shoes. After the bricks have burned, we sometime handle the bricks whilst they are still hot,” said one of the employees.
“When I started working here, I always feared that the roof of the kiln might fall on me but now I’m a bit comfortable getting in and out of the kiln every day. We risk ourselves every day because we have families at home that depend on us.”
The workers disclosed that they were also often made to push custom-made Chinese wheel barrows with a capacity of 600kg, carrying approximately 200 bricks a load, in and out of the kiln.
After bringing out bricks from the kiln, they are made to either load the bricks in haulage trucks that will be delivering the bricks to different locations or stack them up in the brick yard.
“We are at the mercy of the truck drivers when we load their trucks with bricks, for every truck that we load we get at least two or three dollars and roughly we go home with at least 20 to 30 dollars, and that is our livelihood,” another employee said.
The country’s decade-long economic meltdown has forced most people into all sorts of professions to make a living. Industries, such as brick moulding, have not been spared as Zimbabweans are increasingly exploring new avenues of employment.
“We would like the government of Zimbabwe to copy what the Chinese have done and come with their own companies that would produce more opportunities of employment for the local people and price-control the bricks being produced in this area,” another worker said.
“When these people (Chinese) come to Zimbabwe, they sign agreements with the government and lie that they will improve local communities by building roads and other facilities,” said Tongai, a truck driver, wearing a hat with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s picture.
He was, however, quick to point out that it was not a sign of allegiance to the president.
“Personally, I’m not a Zanu PF supporter, but this area has become a Zanu PF territory because of the Presidential Guard camp nearby. I wear this badge to avoid problems with the soldiers,” he said.
Those that handle the bricks as they are loaded onto the trucks and offload them hastily direct their pay, no more than chicken feed, to illicit drugs and hiring of prostitutes, they said.
“That’s all the money can buy,” laughs another employee.
Many of the Chinese employers, who generally keep to themselves, were media shy.
They have all pinned their hopes on whoever becomes the next president after the July 30 elections.