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NRZ, workers lock horns over pay arrears

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THE National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is embroiled in a fierce battle with its employees over 17-month salary arrears amid allegations of the militarisation of management and intimidation of workers’ unions.

NYASHA CHINGONO
The NewsHawks understands that NRZ workers are demanding the 2017 salary scale, which was denominated in US dollars. According to sources inside the NRZ workers’ union, each employee is owed an average of US$30 000 in backdated salaries, but the railway company insists on paying the workers only ZW$90 000 each. 

“It is non-negotiable, and the management has already issued a circular to that effect,” a source said. 

“We are owed 17-month salary arrears backdated to 2017 when we were getting paid in US dollars. There was this statutory instrument that brought into effect the 1:1 rate and the railways later paid its debts using that 1:1 but they did not pay serving employees, promising that they will pay serving employees either in US dollars or at the prevailing bank rate because they had kept the company afloat. On average, employees are owed around US$30 000, meaning if they are to be paid by the bank rate today, a worker owed US$30 000 would get over ZW$2.4 million, but the railways now wants to pay the same employee ZW$90 000,” a source said.

  At a consultative meeting held on 30 March, management told workers’ representatives that there were negotiations on the salary issue. 

“The general manager reiterated that the forum was not for negotiations, but a platform for communicating the board decision on outstanding salaries,” a source close to the developments said.
Management has threatened to institute legal action on workers who declined the raw deal. 

“Schedules (depicting amount owed, ex-gratia and signature) to be circulated to all members and they are expected to be completed within one month.  For those who would not have signed, the employer will resort to the legal route (1:1),” reads part of the resolutions of the meeting. 

As part of the resolutions of the meeting, management agreed that grades A and B arrears would be multiplied by four, with three parts being ex-gratia. 

Arrears for grade C will also be multiplied by three while grade D would be multiplied by two. E and F grade arrears will be multiplied by 1.5. 

Contacted for comment, NRZ spokesperson Nyasha Maravanyika explained how the massive salary arrears came about.

 “The issue of the 17 months’ arrears is because workers were not being given full salaries up to 2019. NRZ has never gone for 17 months without paying salaries.” Maravanyika told The NewsHawks that the NRZ has a payment plan. 

 “The organisation has a plan to pay. The government, through Statutory  Instrument 33, declared that people will be paid on 1:1 basis. These unbanked arrears were in US dollars. NRZ sat down with the unions and planned, but nothing concrete is there. The organisation made a proposition and that is something that is not in dispute,” Maravanyika said. 

“NRZ has got an obligation to pay workers what is due to them.”

The decision to unilaterally decide on the salary issues has irked workers’ unions as worker morale continues plummeting. 

“Unions raised that previously the parties had mutually agreed on converting to leave and amortise using idle land.  The meeting said that position is null and void,” a union leader who requested anonymity said. 

“Management is using bully tactics and we have an acting general manager, Respina Chinyanduko, who is fully employed by Zesa and was on the NRZ board and seconded to act when John Mashika died in January. They are taking advantage that last time we had job action several workers were fired.

Chinyanduko has no interest at all about the wellbeing of NRZ, she knows that she is just acting, and she loses nothing, after all she will go back to Zesa fulltime. She is however making decisions that have far-reaching consequences to the organisation, and morale is very low and things are deteriorating very fast,” an official said. 

Unions are also up in arms with what they describe as military-style management which took root when the late Air Commodore Mike Karakadzai took over the reins in 2005. Karakadzai died in 2013. 

“Ever since, there has been an involvement of the military in management, we have seen everything go down and people are constantly being threatened. Even union officials are scared,” an official said. 

Once a thriving business, the NRZ has been reeling under mismanagement, corruption, and political interference, with the latest efforts to revive the company suffering a stillbirth. 

A US$400 million recapitalisation deal by the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group was frustrated by late former Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza, who cancelled the contract under unclear circumstances last year. DIDG is suing government for breaching the contract and hopes the new Transport minister, Felix Mhone, can address the issue. 

With no turnaround strategy, the NRZ has failed to pay employees, ensure the recapitalisation of the parastatal and replace obsolete locomotives. The country’s sole rail company requires at least 40 more locomotives, 300 modern coaches and 300 wagons.

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