Four hundred and fifty (450) workers at a Chinese firm – Sino hydro that is constructing the US $250 million Itezhi Tezhi hydroelectric power plant – have gone on strike to protest against wages they claim are below minimum wage.
The workers downed tools yesterday around 06:00 hours, vacated the construction site and camped at the District Commissioner’s office and demanded to be addressed by area Member of Parliament, Greyford Monde and the District Commissioner, George Sichula.
A representative of the striking workers, who sought anonymity, accused the Chinese state firm that it was paying its workers wages that are below minimum wage legislation.
“We are getting about K500 and the paid highest gets K700 or below. The K1, 000 which they claim to be above minimum wages is only paid when you have worked overtime,” he said.
He said the wages were not appropriate as they are way below the minimum requirement for a decent life.
“The cost of living has gone up and the current wages are not adequate to meet the bare minimum standard of living,” he said.
He vowed that workers were not ready to go back on the construction site until their demands are met.
But Sino hydro commercial manager, He Zhijun, who spoke on behalf of Sino Hydro, could not back down, saying his firm was compliant with the Zambian minimum wage legislation and that all workers were paid way above the minimum wage.
He said his firm has increased the wages for the workers twice since the project commenced.
Mr He said that the workers’ demands cannot be met unless the current contract they signed with Itezhi Tezhi Power Corporation (ITPC) is reviewed.
‘We signed our contract in 2009 and since then a lot of factors such increase in cement prices, transportation costs and depreciation of the local currency have all proven costly to the project,” Mr He said.
He said the company could only increase the wages if the current contract with ITPC is reviewed to take into account the changes that have occurred since the project commencement in 2009.
And addressing the protesting workers, Itezhi Tezhi Area Member of Parliament, Greyford Monde, appealed to the employees to go back to work whilst the issue was being resolved.
He advised the workers never to down tools whenever they had grievances but to continue working while their representatives were resolving the matter.
Mr Monde told the workers that Itezhi Tezhi power project was meant to benefit the country and that they needed to embrace the project as their own.
“We do not want this project to fail due to work stoppages but to be completed on time,’ Mr Monde said.
He promised that the Labour Minister would be in the district with other labour experts to interpret the minimum wage, saying there seemed to be a misunderstanding on the issue.
And Itezhi Tezhi District Commissioner, George Sichula, observed that the problem was that the workers at Sino hydro were not affiliated to any union.
Mr Sichinga further said there was need for workers to have a union so that their matters could be addressed adequately.