Thousands of mine workers stationed in the “essential services sections” at Hwange Colliery Company Limited (HCCL) have condemned the company’s decision to summon them to work today, denying them the right to exercise their vote.

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The decision came after the government declared today a national holiday to enable citizens to participate in the elections.

In a circular last week, the company’s acting managing director Shepherd Manamike advised that workers from essential sections should report for duty today without fail, despite it being a public holiday.

Part of the circular read: “Monday July 30 is a public holiday. All employees in the non-essential service areas of the mine will be allowed to take absence from work. It is, therefore, expected that only those employees in the essential sections will be required to work over the day.

“For our purposes, the following shall be defined as essential services: health and sanitation, fire services, ambulance services, mining, engineering services, transport services, stores, water supply, refuse collection, electricity supply. Whenever possible, supervisors can reduce staff without compromising production.”

Disgruntled workers who spoke to Southern Eye on condition of anonymity said the move was a strategy to deny them the right to vote as most residents in the coal-mining town were perceived to be opposition activists.

“The Constitution of Zimbabwe in terms of labour rights and labour obligations are supposed to be fair and there is a statute that controls public holidays and prohibition of businesses. The fact that colliery is forcing us to work on a day which is a holiday is unfortunate and unpardonable and after all these people are not paying us our salaries,” a workers’ representative said.

“This is a very critical moment in our lives where we are supposed to go and elect our President, councillors and legislators who are going to preside over this country for the next five years. Most of us are affected as Hwange employs in excess of 5 000 that have been called to go to work, that’s a full parliamentary constituency, so it is unfair,” he added.

Another affected worker said: “Some of us had registered in our immediate rural areas, but now I can’t go there to vote and come back to work. With that in view, it is a method of trying to discredit the election. This is a way to ensure that people do not go and vote. It is unacceptable, but we hope that measures are taken against this, if anything, we are asking for extension of voting days so that we are allowed to exercise our constitutional right. They are only worried about profits. This is a clear violation of our rights.”

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