The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) notes with concern contents of a Press Statement by a Norton Based Chinese tile manufacturing company, Sunny Yi Feng Tiles (Zimbabwe) Pvt Ltd, to cover up its mistreatment of workers after it was exposed.
Instead of working on improving the situation at the company, the company went on to accuse the ZCTU of “bullying” and relying on so-called unreliable sources. It seems the company is more interested in protecting its ‘brand’ than the welfare of workers.
Let us set the record straight:
The ZCTU together with its affiliate union visited the company following complaints from employees that a number of their counterparts have been injured, some killed, and women sometimes collapsed because of exposure to gas leaks. They also complained of workplace Gender based violence and violation of national legislation and International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 190 that deals with Violence and Harassment in the world of work.
Workers also complained that their rights were constantly violated as most of them are paid less than the stipulated minimum wages/salaries. The workers said they remain under paid even after the National Employment Council ( NEC)’s ruling that they be paid according to stipulated minimum wages prescribed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
It is a fact that on the 12th of June workers went on Strike over under payments but the management said it was because they had run their payroll and could not effect the stipulated minimums. The Chairman of the Workers Committee was arrested after the company wanted the workers committee reps to clean the toilets because of their decision and link with ZCTU.
Workers at the firm complained of being exposed to unsafe working conditions, and noncompliance with labour standards.
It must be understood that workers have basic fundamental rights and these are
• The right to membership to Trade Unions or a Workers Committee.
• The right to prohibition of forced labour.
• The right to protection against discrimination.
• The right to fair labour standards.
• The right to democracy at workplace.
The Company has a total workforce of 1700 of which 65% constitutes females whilst 35% are male. Below are some of our findings:
1. Safety Standards
It was quite shocking to learn that workers were asked to pay for the PPE provided by the company, each got a deduction of US$15. The company violated safety and health regulations as employees worked without provision of adequate PPE. Workers have not been taken for occupational medical checkups. It was so disturbing to discover that all the workers were exposed to hazards such as ergonomic, physical, mechanical, chemical, biological and psychosocial. This is a clear indication that provisions of SI 68/90 have been grossly violated and an urgent redress is recommended.
Some of workers have been injured and some killed as a result of workplace hazards and none of them compensated. There is serious under reporting of workplace accidents and this needs to be investigated.
2. Water Closets Facilities/Accommodation
The state of the water closets is so bad, as its flushing system does not work pausing a serious health hazard, a minute spent in the toilet is enough threat to one’s health. The workers’ health is threatened at all times, there is need to have the Ministry of Health come in to inspect the facilities as a matter of urgency. The state of workers’ accommodation is so appalling with 16 people sleeping in one small room and two sharing one single bed, worse still in the advent of Covid-19. This is in violation of the provisions of the Public Health Act Chapter 15:17. All workers have a right to strike, without any notice, when their health is threatened.
3. Working Conditions
All the employees were subjected to poor working conditions. It was brought to our attention that most of them were paid way beyond their actual pay days. When we went there, workers did not have pay slips, they were being paid way below the stipulated minimum wages as each employee was paid 3000 RTGs dollars per month against a minimum of US$100 for a general hand.
Their working hours were in excess of 8 hours per day as stipulated in the CBA covering the Ceramic Sector. There were wage deductions whenever one has requested for time off or even attending authorized meetings.
4. Freedom of Assembly and Association
We established that workers did not enjoy the right to freedom of assembly. The appointed workers identified as “Personal Assistants” are hell bent on harassing fellow workers and making sure they were not given time to attend to other issues and always issued them with warning letters and dismissals. They are denied the right to gather and discuss employees working condition, thus subjecting them to a circle of despair in violation of their rights. Everyone has a right to peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his or her interest.
The ZCTU recommendations are as follows:
1. Payment of appropriate stipulated wages/salaries
Management must honor the provisions of the CBA and pay workers the correct minimum wages according to their grades. On working hours, management is requested to stick to the hours prescribed in the Collective Bargaining agreement and any hours in excess should be deemed as over time and paid in terms of stipulated overtime calculations.
The other area that should be corrected is on delayed payment of wages. We implore upon management to start paying employees on time not beyond the stipulated date of pay. Wage deductions for attending sanctioned meetings or having gone to see a doctor must be discontinued and all those employees whose wages were deducted should be refunded their monies.
2. Occupational Safety and Health
It is very important that a comprehensive safety and health inspection be conducted and that all the workers taken for specific occupational medical checkups as a matter of urgency. Again, an Industrial Hygiene measurement must be quickly done especially within the department where there are gas leaks and all those exposed subjected to medical examinations.
Issuance of PPE should be at the expense of the Employer not employees, and therefore the payment made by employees towards procurement of PPE is not allowed in terms of the Factories and Works Act Chapter 14:08 and its accompanying regulations, therefore all the workers should be refunded their monies as a matter of urgency. They should also be established safety and health committee including the workers committee which must start engagements with management through organised meetings.
There is a serious need to look into the reconstruction of ablution facilities as the state of current ones pause a threat to the health of workers, such a facility should be a place to walk into without fear of possible health threats. We also recommend that the Ministry of Health and the local Authority Building and amenities visit the company without delay in order to save mankind otherwise to save young workers from contracting both non and communicable diseases.
3. Workers’ Accommodation
As already alluded to, the current state of accommodation where workers are housed should be demolished and better houses built for all the workers. Sharing of two workers on a single bed should be discontinued as well as accommodating 16 workers in one room. This includes the canteen facilities and the meals provided.
Instead of spending money in Public Relations stunts, the company must work on these issues. The ZCTU will continue to escalate the matter even up to the international level. We cannot sit by and while workers are being abused. When the Government made a call that Zimbabwe was open for business we do not think it was to do with investors asked to come and contribute to the destruction of workers’ physical, mental and social wellbeing through failure to adhere to Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems.