Labour minister Paurina Mpariwa told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) instituted the probe after receiving reports that the Chinese were ill-treating workers to the extent of even physically assaulting them.
Initial findings, she said, were that some of the companies were not even registered. However, she was not at liberty to name the companies under probe.
Mpariwa said: “NSSA through its Occupational Safety and Health Division conducted the necessary investigations through site visits to ascertain the accurate position.
“Of the companies visited so far it was established that eight companies were violating health and safety regulations.”
The major violated regulations, she said, included lack of toilet provisions, poor electrical installations, lack of personal protective clothing, absence of personal guards on moving machinery and non registration of the companies.
“NSSA suspended operations at the sites until all safety requirements are met. Where fatal accidents occurred, the authority recommended prosecution and the prosecution procedure is being followed,” Mpariwa said.
Zimbabwe Construction and Allied Traders Workers Union (ZCATWU) secretary general Nicholas Mazarura on Wednesday said its members who are close to 12 000 were subjected to inhuman treatment and were deprived of protective clothing by some of the Chinese companies.
He said most complaints the union received were from areas like Mahusekwa in Mashonaland East, where the Chinese were constructing a clinic, Warren Park in Harare where they are building schools, and companies along the Mazowe road.
Other areas from where complaints have been lodged with the ministry include Mutare, Gweru and Bulawayo.
“Since early 2010 we have received complaints from our members regarding gross violation of labour laws,” Mazarura said. “The most serious offence the union has recorded from its members is physical assault. Workers complained that some of their employers would assault them. Then there is the issue to do with dismissal of workers without giving adequate notice, absence of toilet facilities with women and men sharing the same toilet and task work.”
Mazarura said the workers were also complaining about failure by the Chinese to provide protective clothing, underpayment of wages, working overtime without payment and failure to submit pensions.
“ZCATWU would like to warn the Chinese constructors who are operating in Zimbabwe that if they do not follow the laid-down rules, the union is going to take strong action against them,” he said.
Efforts to resolve the disputes, Mazurara said, were in vain after the Chinese firms reportedly claimed that they enjoyed “government immunity”.
Government partnered with Chinese investors through its “look-east policy” in a desperate bid to attract foreign investment after diplomatic relations with the West soured.
Mpariwa said her ministry was at an advanced stage in implementing recommendations by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) so that the country conformed to labour laws that are in line with ILO standards.
“The advisory council met several times to discuss proposals from stakeholders. The harmonisation of the Labour Act and Public Service Act has been largely accepted; what is left is to come up with principles to be incorporated in the amendments,” she said.
On corruption allegations at NSSA where board members were accused in March of abusing their positions by borrowing money from the parastatal for personal use, Mpariwa said a national economic committee was appointed to investigate the allegations and the ministry is awaiting the report of the findings.
According to the 2010 Comptroller and Auditor-General report, senior managers had access to loans, which constituted 47% of all approved loans.