“You can’t come all the way from China to be a racist here,” fumed Sydney Gata, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) executive chairman.
Gata was speaking on the sidelines of a tour of units 7 and 8 of an electricity generation project being jointly implemented by the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) and a Chinese company, Sino Hydro Corporation, in Hwange over a week ago.
A three-month investigation by The Standard, in partnership with the Information for Development Trust, discovered that ZPC, a public sector enterprise and Zesa subsidiary, and line ministries have been turning a blind eye on the rife abuse of local employees by the Chinese management at Sino Hydro Corporation.
“The only remedy is to fire those Chinese people abusing workers,” said Gata, but there are no signs that such redress will come any time soon.
Even as Gata expressed anger at the reports of abuse at Sino Hydro Corporation, the minister of State for Presidential Affairs responsible for Monitoring and Implementation, Joram Gumbo, who had also travelled to Hwange for the tour, brushed the issue aside.
“That’s not what I came here for,” he said.
In early 2019, Sino Hydro Corporation started the construction of the Hwange 7 and 8 units as part of a US$1,4 billion expansion project after signing a deal with ZPC.
The government, which has been painting a rosy picture of the project, estimates it to increase the capacity of Hwange Thermal Power Station — Zimbabwe’s biggest — by 600 megawatts when complete.
ZPC and Sino Hydro Corporation formed the Hwange Electricity Supply Company (Hesco) as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to run the project.
But this SPV remains academic as ZPC has, in practice, surrendered the project to Sino Hydro Corporation through its Chinese management, which workers and other sources said is riding rough-shod over local employees with impunity, despite repeated complaints by their labour union representatives.
Numerous lobby letters by the Zimbabwe Construction and Allied Trades Workers’ Union (Zcatwu), workers’ testimonies and interviews with other sources add up to show the extent of abuses at the Sino Hydro Corporation project, which employs at least 400 people, most of them semi-skilled and unskilled cheap labour.
Correspondence by the union dated March 18 2019 shows that labour representatives, after several attempts to engage the Sino Hydro and ZPC managements over workers’ rights violations, handed over complaints to their lawyers with the hope that, that would bring change.
Slightly a month after, the union, apparently on the advice of its own advocates, took its battle to the ZPC lawyers demanding a meeting to discuss a plethora of grievances against Sino Hydro Corporation.
Their grievances included “underpayment of wages…use of unapproved contract forms, non-provision of protective clothing, unfair dismissal of employees, improper grading, non-provision of pay-slips” and management’s deliberate efforts to set up a workers’ representative body at Sino Hydro.
Last year, Chief Chivero reportedly sustained a twisted arm after being beaten up by a Chinese national at Sunny Yi Feng tile manufacturing plant in Norton.
He said he had welcomed the Chinese into his area, but they were allegedly abusing ordinary citizens.
The Associated Mine Workers Union of Zimbabwe (AMWUZ) also raised concern over the growing labour violations, which included beating up of employees and long working hours without compensation being perpetrated by Chinese investors last year.
“Associated Mine Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe fully embraces the vision 2030 that of a middle-income society come 2030. However, the calibre of investors we have, particularly the Chinese investors, who when you engage to discuss issues they pretend they do not understand English, they do not give workers pay slips. They make workers work long hours without [compensation] and, at times, they beat up workers.”
Workers claim that every time they worked, their Chinese bosses always tail them, waiting to pounce on them if they dare take a rest.
— The Standard/NewsDay