HomeLocal NewsWage dispute threatens Hwange power station upgrades

Wage dispute threatens Hwange power station upgrades

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BY NQOBANI NDLOVU

A Chinese firm, SinoHydro Corporation, which is undertaking the refurbishment of Hwange Thermal Power Station is reportedly engaged in a wage dispute with its employees who accuse it of unfair labour practices and human rights violations.

This is not the first time that SinoHydro Corporation has faced the same charges since the government awarded it a US$1.4 billion tender to expand Hwange thermal power station’s generating capacity by 50%.

It is expected that upon completion of the project, it will add 600 megawatts (MW) to the national grid.

In August, the company’s workers staged a sit-in demanding to be allowed to go home after being reportedly locked inside company premises for more than eight months. The job action followed several pleas by the over 400 workers to be allowed to go home.

NewsDay heard that the company’s employees were now threatening to down tools in protest over low wages, and failure by the company to improve their working conditions.

One worker who identified himself as Tinashe said: “It is not fair how these guys are treating us. We want to work for our country and finish the project but they must listen to our demands.

“Our colleagues from ZESA last week got a salary increment, their management decided to cushion them as they continue with discussions and this at least raises their morale. We appeal to the government to intervene.”

Sino Hydro could not be reached for comment.

The firm started construction of Hwange 7 and 8 units in 2019, taking over from China Machinery and Engineering Company (CMEC) that had initially been awarded the tender.

China’s Export-Import Bank is providing a loan for the project, 80% of it at concessionary rates and 20% at commercial rates.

The current labour dispute between Sino Hydro and its employees comes at a time when the power expansion project is already behind schedule, having been slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reports indicate that Unit 7 which was supposed to be commissioned in October will now be delayed and is set for commissioning in March 2022.

Unit 8 will be commissioned in June 2022 instead of January 2022.

The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) tightened electricity rationing in recent weeks as it battled serious shortages, forcing some parts of the country to go without electricity for several hours.

The power challenges had been caused by technical challenges at the Hwange power plant, while South African power utility, where Zimbabwe often imports from, is also battling to provide enough electricity in the neighbouring country.

The country produces an average of 1,200 megawatts against a peak demand of 2,200 MW and relies on imports to supplement its production.

Follow Nqobani on Twitter @NqobaniNdlovu

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