THE government has released about $3 million to pay striking National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) workers in a bid to end their strike which has entered its second month.
They downed tools in March protesting over unpaid salaries dating back 15 months.
Responding to a question in Parliament last week, the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Joram Gumbo said they had paid about $3 million to the workers and urged them to go back to work.
He said among the measures to generate revenue, his ministry requested the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to allow those who were indebted to the NRZ to give the ministry Treasury Bills in order to assist in paying the workers.
“The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development has agreed to this and we got about $3 million (from companies like Zisco, Zimasco, Makomo, ZPC, Tongaat Hullet and GMB) that we’ve managed to pay the NRZ workers,” said Minister Gumbo.
“We’ve paid them at least $3 million and we’re requesting that they should come back to work and to continue working for the government by bringing in produce from GMB,” said Minister Gumbo.
He was responding to a question by Mkoba MP Amos Chibaya who had asked what the government was doing to ensure that the workers at NRZ are able to fend for themselves and earn a decent living.
Minister Gumbo said over the past 15 months, the employees were receiving part of their salaries.
“What has been happening over this long period of time is that the workers were engaging with the management to ensure that they get at least a little of the money.
“Those who occupy top management were being given $700 and those at the lower ranks were given about $175 per month,” said Minister Gumbo.
He said the challenge was that most parastatals who were keeping the NRZ afloat have closed shop or stopped giving business to the parastatal.
“Other companies such as Zimasco folded and ZPC has also stopped engaging NRZ, which means that the little money that NRZ was able to get and the agreements that had been reached for them to get a little of their salary is no longer available,” he said.
Minister Gumbo told the august House that the parastatal was in the process of collecting scrap material which would then be sold through a tender process to assist the workers.
The NRZ last month dragged its workers to court for refusing to return to work. Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira also ordered them to return to work pending the determination of the matter.
The parastatal said the workers had failed to give the mandatory 14 days’ notice to their employer of their intention to engage in collective job action.
Last week, Labour Court judge Justice Evangelista Kabasa struck the matter off the roll ruling that there was a technical irregularity which the NRZ should attend to before she could hear the matter.
Over 4,000 NRZ workers across the country downed tools bringing to a halt operations including the transportation of imported wheat and drought relief maize. The ailing parastatal, which is saddled with a $144 million debt with the workers owed about $68 million, continues to experience declining freight levels, which have negatively impacted on income.
Last year, the volume of goods NRZ moved tumbled to 2,8 million tonnes from 3,5 million in 2014 on the back of increased challenges besetting the parastatal.
The railway company is facing challenges such as ageing infrastructure and equipment which has surpassed its designed span, vandalism, huge debt and lack of cheap lines of credit for retooling.
In addition, falling commodity prices on the global market affected the company’s key customers, notably those in the coal and chrome industries, resulting in a sharp drop in the business enjoyed by the parastatal.
Some of the commodities moved by NRZ include, but are not limited to maize (imports from Zambia to the southern parts of the country), sugar (exports through Maputo), wheat (imported mainly through Beira and Maputo), coal (mainly to power stations), chrome ore (to smelters in Kwekwe), granite stone (export through Beira), fuel and cement.