Milling firm under fire from workers

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By Emergencey Mwale-Kamtande and Netho Francisco

ONE of the country’s leading milling companies, Victoria Foods, has come under fire from its employees for failing to pay salaries for the past three months despite the firm’s positive performance on the market, The Patriot has established.
The employees said salary problems began three months after appointment of the new management team led by Taurai Shava.
“After dollarisation we never had any salary problems with the employer as the company was operating positively,” said an employee who refused to be named.
“However, the coming of the current management team last year changed everything.
“We have gone for three months now without getting paid.”
Victoria Foods managing director, who once led the now defunct Suncrest Chickens, Taurai Shava said salary problems were caused by the liquidity crunch being experienced in the country which has negatively affected operations of the company.
“We are in a very difficult situation and it is a national issue.
“Zvinhu zvakaomera munhu wese, even the Government is failing to pay its workers.
“With the way things are in the country, we can close shop anytime.
“The company has not made any profit since dollarisation.”
But another employee who joined the company in 2010 described the management at Victoria Foods as, “heartless and inhuman because they prioritise personal interests at the expense of workers’ welfare.”
The mother of five who is also the breadwinner, said her life was becoming unbearable because she was failing to look after her family.
“I have been surviving on handouts from my neighbours and friends, but they have since given up,” she said.
“We are told the company is going through financial difficulties yet we are working overtime.
“Dai hurumende yatibatsira nekuti tiri kusvetwa simba pachena.
“Tatambura.”
In another development which Shava confirmed, the company was collecting pension funds and medical aid charges from workers, but was not remitting the money to service providers.
The workers, said, they were failing to access medical care as a result of the failure by the company to remit funds to service providers.
“They should at least pay the medical aid because they are deducting that money from our salaries yet we are not getting assistance when we fall sick because the company is not making remittances to service providers,” said another employee who requested anonymity.
“The Government must come to our rescue because we are ‘slowly dying’ and the management is getting richer.”
The workers dismissed Shava’s claims that the company was not doing well.
Employees insisted that Victoria Foods was breaching labour laws by forcing them to work overtime without being paid.
“We are working overtime and the firm is operating between 70 and 80 percent capacity,” said one employee.
“We are beginning to think the company is taking advantage of the general poor state of industry in the country to abuse us.
“The flour plant is operating 24 hours to meet targets, but we are not paid for the extra hours.
“Many of us are owed money for more than 600 extra hours.”
Another worker who monitors the company production levels as part of his duties confirmed that Victoria Foods was operating at between 70 percent and 80 percent capacity utilisation which shows a significant increase compared to last year.
“I think there is an element of sabotage of the economy at this company,” he said. “We are producing at least 120 tonnes of flour per day which is much higher than we used to produce before Shava came on board.
“We are also doing toll milling for Grain Marketing Board which means the company is realising more revenue from this project.”
Victoria Foods is controlled by CFI Zimbabwe limited which is a vertically integrated conglomerate predominantly involved in poultry, agro-industrial processing, irrigation, retailing, and property management and development.
CFI has roots in the Farmers’ Cooperative Society formed by white colonialists in 1908.
Following the acquisition of the Farmers’ Cooperative Society (Farmers’ Coop), the cooperative evolved over the years to become a leading agro-based industrial holding company.
Some of the workers argued that the company was furthering the regime change agenda that is being spearheaded by former white commercial farmers who lost land under the Land Reform Programme that benefited over 400 000 black households.
Administration and planning chief secretary for United Food Alliance Workers Union of Zimbabwe (UFAWUZ) Adonia Mtero said the food industry is one of the industries operating at full capacity in the country.
“The fact that there is production clearly shows that the company is making profit,” said Mtero.
“It defies logic to have workers working overtime yet the company says it cannot pay the workers because it has no money.
“They are trying to incite the workers to revolt against the sitting government. “Victoria Foods is not even paying medical aid for its workers yet it is deducting the money from the workers.
“I think it is high time that government intervened to save the exploited worker as the exploitation is political rather than economic.”
Mtero blamed the short-staffed National Employment Council for Food and Allied industry for conniving with employers in the exploitation of workers.
“The NEC is short staffed hence some matters take more than two years without attention,” he said.

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