Zimbabwe News

Chinese lithium miner accused of unfair labour practices

Security guards employed at Richmark, a company contracted by Arcadia Lithium Mine in Goromonzi, accuse the company’s director of security, Wang, a Chinese national, of racism, intimidating and firing guards on spurious charges.

The workers also alleged that they are fed substandard food and that their ablution facilities are inhumane and degrading.

Last week, a photo of the toilets used by workers at the mine went viral on social media platforms.

The photo showed water flowing on the floor and a lack of privacy for workers when relieving themselves.

Some of the security guards who spoke to the publication on condition of anonymity raised several allegations against the company in general and Wang in particular.

They said, for instance, Wang routinely inspects night duty guards in the morning and those with bloodshot eyes will be accused of sleeping on guard duty.

Six guards were recently given warning letters before they were fired.

The security guards also accuse Wang of forcing them to buy cellphones. Wang allegedly travels to China to source phones at cheap prices and then forces guards to buy them at exorbitant prices.

Wang is also accused of forcing security guards to find livestock such as goats for him to slaughter for food.

This is said to be a condition to have their contracts renewed and those who refuse to do as demanded are dismissed. Said the source:

Somewhere around August 2023, Wang and another Chinese guy named Yang ordered about 30 refurbished VIVO cellphones from China and then wrote a list of the names of security guards.

They then gave each one of us a cellphone and asked us to pay US$200, yet they paid only US$40 for each phone in China, and they were delivered via express cargo.

If you refuse to buy the phone, they threaten not to renew your three-month contract.

We are also forced to work during holidays and if we complain, we are threatened with dismissal.

We have a shortage of work suits, and we don’t have torches, yet we work in the bush at night. We work in a dusty environment but we have not been provided with personal protective equipment (PPE).

The toilets that we use are in poor condition and we are forced to eat substandard food.

Wang is reported to be in China on vacation. Before his departure to the Far East on 23 February, he reportedly gave warning letters to several security guards for having bloodshot eyes.

Responding to questions sent via email by Pindula News, an official at Richmark admitted that they had indeed received some complaints from the workers about the poor quality of the food. Said the official:

In terms of quality of food, a few complaints had been lodged by some employees a few weeks ago.

To address the issue, the management engaged the caterer and insisted they improve their standards.

The worker’s committee and SHE department were also assigned the duty of making regular checkups on the quality of food that is being supplied, and to report any substandard food to the HR department.

The official said staff quarters have clean toilets with running water comprising 20 toilet seats, each with a partition and personnel that are employed as cleaners specifically for that area.

Another Richmark employee who spoke to this publication said the partitions in the toilet blocks were only installed a few days ago in response to the viral picture.

The company’s management said they were not aware that Wang was forcing employees to buy cellphones. It said:

We are carrying out investigations but formally no complaint has been lodged with the management over this issue.

This is the first time that issue has come to the management’s attention.

The official also disputed claims by employees that they do not have adequate PPE. He said:

As per company policy, every employee is given a new worksuit/ safety shoes every 6 months.

If an employee’s PPE is damaged before the 6 months are due, they approach the SHE department with a replacement request.

An assessment is then carried out to ascertain whether the damage/ loss of PPE is through normal wear and tear due to the nature of the work or whether it is through negligence.

The outcome will result in the employee being either given a new set of PPE or made to pay a fee for replacing the damaged PPE.

There are records for PPE distribution that are kept in the SHE department and each employee is obligated to sign as an acknowledgement of receiving the PPE when their period is due.

Meanwhile, the workers said they walk on eggshells every time Wang is around and wonder “why he is always angry”.

They said their sincere hope is that he will be transferred to the Democratic Republic of Congo when he returns to Zimbabwe at the end of his 40-day vacation.

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