MORE than five years after being retrenched without severance packages, desperate former Ziscosteel employees are yet to access their pensions.
They fear that if the government is to continue with the present arrangement of awarding the pensions on a ZW$1: US$1 some workers will get less than US$10 following years of toil.
For former employee Taonezvi Machakaire, who spent over 40 years with the company, his present situation is bitter.
“I never imagined that after serving the company for 42 years I would end up being confined to destitution by the company I served with distinction and loyalty,” he said.
The former operator said his only hope is to get a decent pension and maybe the re-opening of the company so that his children will get employment opportunities.
“I just pray that government grants us reasonable pensions so that we live decently. It is also my hope that the company is rescucitated so that the youths around here can get employment,” he said.
Another former employee, who at one time served as a Redcliff councillor, Ashton Muchuweni, said ex-workers are languishing in poverty.
“It is the greatest height of being callous that after serving the company for all those years we have not been paid our pensions. To aggravate the situation, the government is proposing to pay us devalued pensions which are next to nothing. As former employees we are living by God’s grace. It was better in recent months when we were receiving food aid from Plan International, but since the aid came to an end we are living in serious poverty. It is only through God’s grace that we have made it this far,” he said.
Former worker representative and councillor Maxin Dabvu has called on the government to look into the issue of pensions.
“Government must really look into the welfare of former employees. They are leading painful lives, their lives are very unbearable. This has also impacted on their ability to pay their bills,” he said.
Paralegal expert and former worker representative Willard Milazi said workers should have been paid their dues within three months of being terminated.
“It’s sad that I worked for Ziscosteel for over 27 years, but I was retrenched with nothing. I urge government to look into the welfare of the former employees and release reasonable pensions. When we were laid off, according to law within three months we should have been given our pensions but up to now we are yet to receive anything.
“We understand that our money was being remitted to First Mutual, but First Mutual is telling us that no money was remmitted. Physically they don’t have the money as the company was not remitting to First Mutual. A recent workers’ meeting revealed that workers are to get their monies on 1:1 basis and that is the bone of contention. We were remitting these monies in US dollars, for instance if I remitted US$2 000, I am now to get ZW$2 000. We have really been reduced to beggars. Life is tough,” he said.
In an interview, Benedict Moyo, chairperson of the board of trustees of the Ziscosteel pension scheme, said workers have decided to petition Parliament over the issue.
If the government is to pay the former employees their pensions at ZW$1:US$1, then some former employees will get less than US$10 in pensions in real terms.
“As stakeholders, including former employees, we had a meeting where we resolved to petition Parliament on the issue. We have since done so. The reason why we chose that route is that when the the Ziscosteel Bill was passed into an Act were government took over our debt it was done through Parliament and it is the same parliament we are petitioning on the issue. The purpose is to highlight that their law is now being broken,” Moyo said.
He added that when the ex-employees met they resolved not to take the paltry pensions in their present state.
“What needs to be understood is that Ziscosteel terminated through retrenchment all its employees on 31st of August 2016. From then onwards, we were expecting our pensions within three months. It is within the law. It is within the Statutory Instrument in Pensions and Providence Act that anyone terminated or dismissed from employment must be paid within 90 days of termination of their employment up to now we have not been paid,” Moyo said.
In April, the former workers had a meeting to map the way forward.
“Government is the one which took over the Ziscosteel debt in 2016 and this was passed into an Act in 2019. Its now a law that we should be paid, unfortunately government hasn’t paid us up to now. Through SI 33 we were to receive our pensions where US$1 was equivalent to 1 bond note. That was feasible in 2016 but not at the present moment. We contributed our pensions to the employer in USD.
“The human part of it is not there. In the meantime we are calling on government to show the human face considering the contributions we made in US dollar its better we get paid on an interbank rate,” Moyo said.
He added, that some former pensioners have died without accessing their money while Redcliff is now a ghost town given that former employees are struggling to make ends meet.
Mbizo lawmaker Settlement Chikwinya said the government must really look into the welfare of Ziscosteel pensioners who are wallowing in poverty following the closure of the former intergrated steelworks giant.
“In Parliament I presented a question on national importance in terms of standing order number 62 of Parliament calling upon the minister of Industry and Commerce, honourable Sekai Nzenza, to come before Parliament and do the following:
“One, state the roadmap under which Ziscosteel is going to be functional that, reveal when the investors are going to arrive on the ground as well as when they are going to start production. Parliament and government of Zimbabwe, Ziscosteel former workers and more importantly the Kwekwe community want to understand and know when this national institution in our economic recovery program is going to begin production,” Chikwinya said.
He also said Minister Nzenza must answer on the welfare of former Ziscosteel employees.
“When are the outstanding pensions of former Ziscosteel employees going to be paid off? There is currently a standoff between the ex-Ziscosteel workers whom the government wants to pay in RTGS at a rate converted at one-to-one for their pensions which they accrued in US$ and now the government wants to pay them in RTGS,” Chikwinya said.
The lawmaker said such callousness is totally unfair to the former employees.
“It is very unfair, it is very cruel and it is very inhumane for someone who had US$30 000 in 2017 now to get paid their pensions in ZW$30 000. So we want the minister to come to Parliament and tell us how they expect Ziscosteel pensioners to survive when they had accrued US dollars in their pensions and yet the government wants to pay them in RTGS,” Chikwinya said.
Redcliff MP Lloyd Mukapiko said the coming in of a new investor in Kuvimba Mining House had not brought any joy to the former Ziscosteel employees.
“The issue of Ziscosteel pension payout is a disturbing story. Ziscosteel workers were retrenched in 2016 according to the Pensions and Providence Funds Act. Ziscosteel employees should then have been given their pensions within three months or 90 days of retrenchment. They should have been paid their pensions in December 2016 but up to now they have not been settled,” Mukapiko said.
He said when government assumed the Ziscosteel Debt Assumption Bill there was hope that the workers would get their dues.
“We received information through FML board of trustees indicating that government through the ministry of Finance had deposited ZW$39 million in FML account to disburse to beneficiaries in December 2021. Considering that over 3 000 workers are supposed to have benefited it means that each worker would have been given US$70 in pensions, which is quite sad. Therefore, there was an uproar and the money was not disbursed,” he said.
“Ziscosteel contributed so much to the economy. Therefore, their former workers are important and they must be treated with dignity. We are going to fight tooth and nail to ensure that the former employees are given what’s due to them,” said Mukapiko.