China – Africa relations from a worker’s perspective
Billian T Matambo, Zimbabwe Diamond and Allied Workers Union (ZIDAWU)
Like a coin which always have 2 sides, so is the situation with these Chinese foreign investors. Looking at our economic situation, having more than 95% unemployment rate in Zimbabwe, their (Chinese) presence played a pivotal role providing employment . Also, they provided ready market for goods and commodities from the locals and capable individuals, thus promoting black empowerment and growth of small and medium enterprises.
However, there are challenges coming along with these. ln my view, I can safely say the Chinese are the worst investors since they target high production and maximising profits at the expense of workers who usually find themselves being forced to work under very poor and unsafe conditions. Thinking of those in the mining sector, there is no adequate and proper PPE provided, making matters worse, there is nowhere to report the issue as the situation is either take it or leave it. It also seems as if these investors are somehow above the law as they in most cases do not comply or are not forced to comply to what the government say pertaining workers’ affairs. But then my question remains ‘how can the government enforce that the workers rights be respected when the government is also not a respecter of the labour act when it comes to government owned mines? For instance, when NEC says there is a pay rise, the Chinese don’t comply until maybe after 3-4 months later then they say they will pay back pays thereby the money will be almost nothing due to inflation. Thirdly, there is no job security as all employees are said to be contract workers, exposing them to low wages, no retirement packages and in most cases unfair dismissals. When it comes to negotiations, the workers commitee is prone to intimidation, in the event that a worker want to stick to the NEC code of conduct, your contract will be terminated within 24 hours thus by the end of the day no one will be courageous enough to fight for the workers ‘ rights. Citing what happened at Anjin in 2012 whereby all key members of the workers committee were unfairly dismissed from work after they tried to stand against unfair labour practices that workers were subjected to.
We did a research at Anjin and what I mentioned here was going on but then we say no maybe that behavior was out dated so we embark on another research recently on a chrome smelting company in Norton which is owned by the Chinese again. We were shocked to find out that the exact replica of violations of workers rights are happening there. Its unfortunate I can’t mention the name of the company on this platform.
However, mine workers in Chinese owned companies have continue earning slave wages that are against the returns generated by the employer. Most of the workers are living below the poverty datum line which flies in the face of the United Nation Principles. Though in deed, Section 65 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe as read together with the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01), protects workers from not only investors but also local employers. However, every employer is obliged to comply with the laws of the land. Anyone can be an investor. We have what we term local and foreign investors though we don’t have the term ” investor” in the Labour Act.
Furthermore looking into the transparency and accountability issues, most Chinese investors don’t declare their returned profits on stock exchange, everything is secretive. They are looters who exploits our resources. The government gets nothing in return. Citing an example of Anjin they declared losses for 3 conservative years hence they continued mining till 2016. My question is ‘why continue mining if you’re running the business at a loss ? My opinion is that the Chinese are criminals looters exploiting our resources. Our minerals are natural resources that can yield tremendous economic benefits if accounted for. Our country have and still missing opportunities to capitalize on natural resources wealth because of mismanagement and corruption of our so called Chinese investors.
There is very little that we can recommend to the suffering workers. They are trapped between the rock of poverty and the hard surface of the ruthless investor. However there are a few expectations we feel the new administration should have addressed. The new government should have send clear signal to all miners that it will manage it’s mineral resources with a maximum of transparency and accountability, that should have inspired public confidence that the government will:
(a) manage resources for the public benefits especially the workers.
(b) reduce the risk of corruption and ensuing scandals.
(c) ensure that the country gets the best deals possible for the exploitation of its resources. The nation is no longer interested in mega deals that only fill pockets of greedy individuals.
(d) attract new investments to this nation (Zimbabwe).
The government must put measures in place, laws and policies that demands our expectations from the investor thereby safeguarding our resources and the interests of citizens of this country. Presenting a begging bowl to investors as we are currently doing is only making us victims and subject us to colonialism. This time to Chinese colonialism.
Looking from the neutral point of view , what is causing all these is poor politics. These companies are too much into local politics such that by the end of the day everything is politicised, all workers, local authority will be silenced . But in actual fact, the workers will continue to be poorer and definitely will die poor and the opposite being equally true with their employers whom we call the INVESTOR.