The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has recently brought to light labour violations at the Manhidze Steel Works project, a $1.5 billion project being implemented by Chinese firm, Dinson Iron and Steel Company (DISCO). As Africa’s largest integrated steel plant, this project is expected to generate over 1.2 million tons of steel and provide thousands of jobs to struggling locals, but reports of labour rights abuses have raised alarm among local unions.

Kudakwashe Munengiwa, the acting secretary general of the ZCTU, expressed his concern in a letter to Labour Minister Paul Mavima, describing the company’s management as hostile towards efforts to recruit and organize workers at the construction site. Despite attempts by the Registrar of Labour and Principal Labour Officer from Gweru to resolve the issue, the company’s management has refused to grant access to the site for union recruitment and even refused to accept stop order forms from workers wishing to join a union.

According to the ZCTU, DISCO’s actions are in direct violation of the Labour Act and international conventions such as the ILO Conventions 98 and 87 on the right to organize and freedom of association. The ZCTU fears that these actions will tarnish Zimbabwe’s global image as anti-union, adding to the already mounting accusations of human rights violations against Chinese firms operating in the country.

The Widespread concerns over Chinese investment in Zimbabwe

Chinese investment in Zimbabwe has come under scrutiny in recent years, with reports of human rights violations such as worker exploitation, environmental harm, and lack of transparency. These include low wages, hazardous work conditions, and a lack of safety gear, as well as allegations of illegal activities like corruption and smuggling. However, the full extent of these abuses remains unclear as claims are often disputed.

The need for intervention and accountability in the Manhidze Steel Works project

As Zimbabwe’s largest steel plant, the Manhidze Steel Works project has the potential to bring significant economic benefits to the country, but it is crucial that these benefits are achieved through fair and responsible means. The ZCTU’s petition to the Labour Minister highlights the need for intervention and accountability in ensuring that workers’ rights are protected and upheld at the plant.

The international community must also pay close attention to the Manhidze Steel Works project and advocate for the respect of labour rights in Zimbabwe. This includes ensuring that companies like DISCO are held accountable for their actions and that the country’s labour laws are enforced.