In what amounts to blatant exploitation, the National Railways of Zimbabwe is deploying casuals to war-torn Mozambique to repair the Maputo-Chicualacuala line and then dismissing them once they have been injured so seriously that they cannot undertake the track work.
So far, The Insider has been notified of four such workers who lost their jobs because they had lost limbs while repairing the line.
The casuals are recruited from the employment exchange near Vundu Hostel, in Makokoba, which is run by the Ministry of Labour.
Initially, the NRZ recruited the casuals through its personnel section but this was stopped after some of the railway officers started demanding bribes (chiokomuhomwe) of up to $80 per person before offering them a job.
Some of the officials have already appeared in court.
On being recruited the casual workers are made to sign contract of employment forms for Grades 11 and 12 in which they endorse that they are being engaged for manual work at the rate of $3 128 per annum.
The contract stipulates that the Railways will give the worker a minimum of one day’s notice on completion of the project. The worker will be entitled to one day’s leave on full pay for each completed month of service, but should the period of service exceed 12 months, the worker will be entitled to such vacation leave as applies to the permanent grades within the same class.
“I will be entitled to 30 calendar days sick leave if I am incapacitated by reason of illness or accident not self-inflicted,” the contract workers are made to sign. “Where my period of such incapacitation exceeds one month my contract of employment shall be terminated.”
According to one of the victims who declined to have his name published as he and his colleagues are still fighting their case, they were recruited in October 1988. His gang consisted of 150 when they left for Mozambique and set up camp at Mapayi.
Part of the agreement was that they would work 16 days non-stop and then take 10 days off in Zimbabwe. This would coincide with their payday so that they could be paid back home.
Although their contract form stated that they would earn $3 128 a year, the worker said, they were paid anything between $700 and $900 a month. But his stint was short-lived. On his return to Mozambique after the first break he stepped onto an anti-personnel mine as they tried to repair the line which had been blasted by members of the rebel Renamo bandits, or Matsangas as they are commonly referred to in Mozambique. They were working around the Gerezi area. Several people were injured during the blast. The victim lost a leg and is now using an artificial one.
After a long stay in hospital, he and three of his colleagues who had been injured in separate accidents were assigned to do light duties within the railways. This involved opening the mail, filing and answering telephones.
The blow came in September 1989 when all four were told they had been fired.
“The decision to terminate your services was reached after the personnel manager had ruled that in terms of your contract of employment, you were engaged specifically for the Mozambique project but because of the nature of your injury you are no longer medically fit to fulfil the purpose of your employment i.e. to work as a track worker,” the letter explaining the dismissal said.
The Zimbabwe Amalgamated Railwaymen’s Union, however, stepped in. This led the NRZ to withdraw its letter of termination of service almost a month later. This letter read as follows: “After consultative discussions.. it has been decided to retain your services and seek you suitable alternative employment in Grade 11-12 sphere.”
It took the NRZ five months to seek alternative employment and in March 1990, exactly a year and five months after being recruited, the four were told they were being dismissed because the railways could not get alternative employment for them.
“I make reference to the………..letter addressed to you advising of your retention in service pending finding you alternative employment and have to advise that an exhaustive effort was made in this regard which had not been successful.
“As result of the above the administration has no alternative but to terminate your services.”
And so ended the careers of four young men, who had been recruited as healthy workers, but were now being thrown out as disabled workers with very little prospects of getting another job.
The four sought help from the National Council for the Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe but the council was not able to do much and is reportedly still looking into the matter.
The young men said although they are receiving compensation for their injuries, this was less than $100 a month.
“They (Railways) are quite aware that we were injured, by accident, while working for them and there is very little likelihood that we will get other jobs. So at least we thought that they would be compassionate enough to allow us to work for them since we were injured while working for them.”