Golden Sibanda recently in REDCLIFF
More than 2 000 workers at Ziscosteel have lost hope that the much hyped resuscitation of the steel maker would see the light of day as there has been virtually no progress on the ground.
Essar has failed to deliver on three key pledges namely relief pay for workers, importation of billets for Lancashire Steel to resume operations and putting contractors on the ground to start rehabilitating the plant.
Contractors have not come from China to work on the plant as promised while Lancashire is actually selling scrap metal to keep going.
Essar’s commitment to reviving the steel maker has also been queried by workers baffled as to why the firm has not appointed a board for NewZim Steel, with the old Zisco board comprised of Nyasha Makuvise as chairman and chief executive Alex Gowo.
The unpaid workers are under strict rules to keep reporting for duty. They spend most of the time milling around the premises except those working on (lancing) the scrap metal sold to meet a few of Zisco’s obligations.
A visit to the now desolate firm’s plant in Redcliff, now a pale shadow of the once vibrant and economically strategic company, revealed that workers have resigned to fate and were desperate for some form of relief.
Workers are being given as little as an eighth of their normal salary paid sporadically, mostly once after every 3 months amid claims management were getting reasonable remuneration, including monthly benefits.
The company has resorted to selling scrap metal, sand (by-product from iron ore) to cement makers, coke breeze from furnace number four and occasional machining jobs for third parties to cover some obligations.
Some of the material is being sold at grossly discounted prices just to get income.
A member of the Zisco workers committee who spoke on condition that he was not named said most Zisco workers were struggling to survive since they have not been paid meaningful salaries since sometime in 2012.
An average of four workers or former staff are said to be dying each month with lack of food and access to good health care suspected among the main causes.
The source said workers had regained confidence in May when Essar and Government said that all the major outstanding issues to the deal had been fulfilled and the process to restart the firm would start immediately.
“We had hope after the meeting held with the shareholder and Industry and Commerce Minister (Mike Bimha).
“On May 12, management carried out a skills audit. Initially workers resisted saying how could they carry out a skills audit when they had not been paid.
“However, workers eventually agreed after management said workers would immediately be paid three months salary after the audit, but that has not happened except kids’ schools fees assistance for the second term,” he said.
The workers representatives also claimed that the workers had demanded clarity on notice pay management wanted to give them, which some feared was meant to reduce the head count, but the issue was aborted soon after the workers questioned the legal implication of the plan.