THE stand-off between Mbada Diamonds and its former employees has escalated after the workers vowed to bring their spouses and children to join them in camping at the company’s Borrowdale offices to press for the payment of salaries and other benefits.
The workers, who have been sleeping in the open outside the company offices since the third of last month, accused management of being insensitive to their plight by repeatedly making false promises and sending the police to harass them instead of paying them.
“The police have since left us to continue sleeping here in protest after realising that we are peaceful Zimbabweans who only want to be paid what is due to them,” said a worker who identified himself as Rueben on Wednesday.
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“The company had been making excuses that they could not pay us because some of the company’s diamonds were attached overseas before they could be sold. But since the return of those diamonds there has been no attempt to pay or even address us despite earlier promises to pay up by February. We will continue sleeping here until we get our payment and very soon we will be bringing over our wives and children to camp with us here so that they realise how desperate the situation is.”
Zimbabwe last month recovered diamonds seized during an auction at the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) last year, according to the Belgian auctioneer. last year, a South African company, Amari, won a temporary relief to freeze the proceeds from the auction saying it was owed by the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation.
But in a notice last week AWDC said the final instalment of 500 000 carats of seized diamonds with an estimated value of a little under $29 million had been returned to Zimbabwe bringing closure to the dispute.
The workers from different parts of the country such as Bulawayo, Mutare, Marange, Gokwe and Mount Darwin said their property had been attached over debts and their children are no longer attending school.
The Zimbabwe Independent visited the upmarket shopping mall and saw protest placards as well as blankets indicating that the ex-workers have been sleeping at the premises.
Although 15 workers were at the site, a court order dated March 15 indicates that 711 former employees have been served with notice to vacate the premises.
Mbada Corporate Services Executive George Manyaya could not be reached for comment as his mobile phone was unavailable. However, the workers produced letters from the company acknowledging that it owes them amounts ranging from US$5 000 to US$36 000 for salaries and overtime.
“Please be advised that Mbada Diamonds acknowledges owing a total amount of US$5, 031 calculated starting from June 21, 2013 being the date of engagement to the 31st of December 2014,” read a letter to one of the employees.
Senior Mbada officials who spoke to this paper acknowledged the company’s obligations to the workers but argued that the situation is being exaggerated “possibly by elements with a sinister agenda.