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Chinese mining firm crosses swords with workers’ union

TINASHE KAIRIZA/MELODY CHIKONO
CHINESE gold mining firm, Rongxin has been caught in the eye of a storm after the Zimbabwe Union of Mine Workers (ZUMW) levelled a litany of allegations against the miner’s Mashonaland West-based operations.

Documents gleaned by the Zimbabwe Independent this week show that ZUMW accused the Chinese mining firm of violations of labour rights ranging from withholding wages and benefits as well as subjecting workers to long working hours without proper protective clothing.

“We act on behalf of Rongxin Mining employees. We hereby launch a complaint of unfair labour practices by the employer Rongxin management on its employees.

Rongxin is in wilful violation of the Labour Act Chapter 28:01 Section 13.

“The employer is in violation of the regulations made under this section, whereby he is withholding wages and benefits … (employer) wrongfully terminated their contracts of employment in violation of the Labour Act Chapter 28:01 Section 12B subsection 3,” reads a correspondence, addressed to the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare dated January 17, 2021.

The correspondence was undersigned by ZUMW legal, education and training officer Shadreck Pelewo.

In another correspondence addressed to the Mines ministry’s regional mines inspector (Kadoma), ZUMW general secretary Zedi Banda also raised complaints against Rongxin for violating safety, health and environmental regulations.

“We act on behalf of Rongxin Mining employees.

The employees are exposed to hazardous health conditions, including the surrounding community.

“The mine is discharging laboratory chemicals and effluent in the rivers used for domestic purposes in violation of the mining (health and sanitation regulations Statutory Instrument (SI) 182 of 1995 Section 6,” read the correspondence dated January 18, 2021.

Rongxin had not responded to questions sent by this publication.

“The mine is not keeping and maintaining a supply of drugs, dressing and appliances as specified in the second schedule for the immediate treatment of all accidents likely to occur on the mine,” Banda said.

He noted that the Chinese miner is also in violation of Section 14 of Statutory Instrument 182 of 1995 which implores treatment and care for the injured.

According to the documents, the miner has not made any reports to the parent ministry for the six accidents that happened at the mine.

“The injured have not received any compensation for the injuries…This prompts us to seek Ministry of Mines intervention to rectify the violations.”

The letter was also copied to Rongxin management.

Mines minister Winston Chitando could not be reached for comment.

This is not the first time Rongxin has been mired in controversy.

On January 4, 2022, our sister paper NewsDay reported that one of Rongxin directors based in Sanyati allegedly offered 10kg of gold to suppress an investigation into a forced child marriage case involving a Chinese engineer at the mine.

As reported at that time, the 15-year-old girl (name withheld) dropped out of school after being married off to a Chinese engineer on November 26, 2021.

It is alleged that the engineer paid US$2 000 as customary bride price in ward 5 under Chief Neuso, Sanyati district, in Mashonaland West province.

The minor was in Form 3 at Tomdrayer Secondary School at the time she was married off.

This week, Zimbabwe civil society groups fired a broadside at Chinese business operations citing that most Chinese funded mining projects were displacing indigenous people from their ancestral lands as well as destroying the environment.

“We are united in our common objective of defending our communities and national heritage against investment projects that disempower and impoverish our people.

We seek to register our deep concern with the behaviour of Chinese businesses in Zimbabwe.

“We have however noted with deep concern the threats of displacements and mining projects in ecologically sensitive places around the country without any regard for the concerns of local people,” the grouping said in a statement.

This subsequently prompted the Chinese Embassy in Harare to dismiss the allegations raised by the civic society.

The Chinese embassy underscored that investors from China in Zimbabwe were pursuing a mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries.

Harare and Beijing’s relationship was elevated to the status of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Co-operation following President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s visit to China in 2018 at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping.

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