Allegations of mistreatment of local workers by Chinese-owned companies in Zimbabwe hit Zimbabwe-China relations

A number of Zimbabwean workers have accused Chinese companies operating in the country of offering “slave-like” working conditions to their employees, creating diplomatic tension between the two countries.

In a recent statement, the Chinese embassy in Harare accused the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the largest workers’ watchdog group, of conducting an “organized smear campaign” that it said was damaging to Zimbabwe-China relations.

“Sino-Zimbabwean friendship and cooperation will not be harmed by any slander or defamation by any individual or force. Moves that undermine the good relations between China and Zimbabwe will give us more confidence and motivation to develop the deep friendship and fruitful cooperation between our two countries,” the English-language statement said.

The Zimbabwe Chamber of Chinese Enterprises also issued a statement in English saying, “We strongly condemn the baseless claims and lies against the Chinese government and people. Attacks with ulterior motives will not affect the determination of our two beautiful countries to develop good relations.”

One of the targets of the allegations by the ZCTU and the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU) is Sunny Yi Feng Tile Company (Sunny Yi Feng), located about 40 kilometers west of Harare. The company’s alleged labor abuses include abuses such as low wages, overcrowded housing and respiratory complications from exposure to dangerous chemicals.

In addition, Collen Guvi, a former worker at Galaxy Plastics, another Chinese-owned company in Harare, told the Voice of America’s Zimbabwean desk that he lost three fingers while producing plastic, but said his bosses refused to compensate him or pay his huge medical bills.

Recounting the accident in February, Gurvi said, “My hand somehow got caught in the machine and several of my fingers were cut off by the machine. Then I went to Suburban Hospital and was told I would have to pay for surgery to repair the damage. The manager who came with me called the owner of the company, who said he didn’t have that kind of money, so I left the hospital without receiving treatment. When I returned to the company office, he gave me $50 and said it was enough money for the surgery. The next day I went to Parirenyatwa, the government hospital, but the company did not pay for my transportation and medicine. I had to pay $5 a day to dress my wounds. I did not get enough money to pay for this. “

The company eventually banned him from the company’s premises, Gwe noted.

He told the Voice of America’s Zimbabwean desk that after that he decided to contact the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions, which is responsible for resolving labor issues, to get help in getting severance pay from the company, but he claims the union took his money as well.

“Then I decided to go to the union and there was first a lot of resistance from my bosses and then they agreed to give me severance pay, which by my own estimation would have been about US$1,176, but then in what way they reached an agreement I don’t know, and somehow that figure came down to US$400 anyway. But out of that amount, I only got $166. When the workers’ representatives said again that they had only received $300 and that they had deducted my representation fee because I was not a union member, I confronted them about it. But collecting the money was unsuccessful because the union leaders and the employer wouldn’t answer my calls.” Gouvey said.

The reporter sent a request for comment to Galaxy Plastics on Guvi’s claims and the company’s owner, Xieng Ha, provided a copy of the agreement on the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions’ letterhead as proof of the $400 payment by sending a WhatsApp text message.

Kennias Shamhuyarira, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions, did not respond to Gouwe’s allegations but requested a copy of the agreement sent by Galaxy Plastics.

As a follow-up to ongoing allegations of misconduct by Chinese companies like Sunshine Easy Tiles, Shamhuyarira told the Voice of America’s Zimbabwean desk that a delegation from the tripartite negotiating forum of business, labor and government has scheduled a visit to the Sunshine Easy Tiles site to investigate allegations of alleged labor abuses.

“The mistreatment of Zimbabwean workers by the Chinese is of great concern,” Shamhujarira said. He added that the visit was standard practice after receiving such allegations.

“So that’s how we deal with these issues, and once they are reported to us as they were in this case, we are able to take swift action,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sunshine Efone Tile issued a media statement denying the allegations of worker abuse and accusing the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions of stirring up relations between the factory and its workers.

“Initially, we welcomed the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU) as an organization with constructive ideas on compliance with Zimbabwe’s labor laws, but later, their actions were more about fanning discontent,” the English-language statement said.

Japahet Moyo, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, told the Voice of America’s Zimbabwean desk that they had received numerous reports of labor rights violations, most of which involved Chinese-owned companies.

“As a labor force, we don’t discriminate whether you are Asian or American. We try to assist all workers who have been abused in all local companies or foreign companies. We refer them to industry unions, but if we feel that government intervention is needed, we coordinate for that. Alleged abuses regarding Chinese companies are well documented and even videos are circulating on social media of several workers being beaten by company employees, which is illegal. The government is aware of these abuses, but we have yet to see the government do anything serious about it. But since the government has said that if there are violations, they must be done in accordance with the law, we urge all workers to report suspected abuses so that they can be documented and hopefully resolved amicably,” Moyo said.

However, in an interview with the Voice of America’s Zimbabwean desk, Zimbabwean Labor Minister Professor Paul Mavima dismissed claims that the government is unwilling to address alleged abuse of workers by some Chinese companies.

“On the issue of people who have allegedly been injured on the job and abused by some Chinese companies, we do not deny that this is happening,” Mavima said. He added, “We have a labor inspectorate that monitors companies for compliance with the law on labor rights issues. This is an issue that we have also discussed in the cabinet and I have put it on the agenda.”

“The country has said at the highest level (of the president) that all companies that want to invest in Zimbabwe must comply with our labor laws, without exception. When we do inspections for this aspect, we are sometimes accompanied by labor representatives from the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the Occupational Safety and Health Department of the National Social Administration to advise companies on what needs to be done. Some employers are arrested if they endanger the safety and security of their workers, and some may be forced to close down,” Mavima said.

According to a July 14 report in Zimbabwe’s local media, New Zimbabwe, Lovemore Matuke, Zimbabwe’s deputy minister of public service, labor and social welfare, during a July 13 visit to Sunshine Eafeng Tile Company regarding the ILO’s allegations, commented on “the 1,500 The workers were shocked by the miserable working and living conditions. According to the media outlet, Matuke ordered the company to improve employee meals, allow employees to take regular vacations, improve bathroom cleanliness and privacy, and give dedicated lunch periods instead of working and eating at the same time. In addition, Matooke “was shocked by the fact that employees there were working without contracts.” The report said the company also never issued pay slips with pay details to workers.

The report also said that Sunshine Easy Tiles also failed to comply with regulations on the prevention and control of the New Coronavirus outbreak, and did not regularly test more than 1,500 employees for the virus.

The story said Matooke said the company needed to create a safety and health management department and establish a local clinic to handle accidents and sick employees.

Zimbabwe has increasingly turned to China for financial support after Washington and the European Union imposed targeted sanctions starting in 2003 citing human rights violations. Political analysts argue that these close ties between the two governments make it difficult for Harare to formally condemn Chinese companies that violate labor laws. There are also Chinese involved in investing in local mining and agriculture, but Harare would not give more details about such investments.