Lithium workers unhappy with embattled Bikita Minerals salary offer

Moses Ziyambi

 Bikita Minerals has conceded some ground in its long-running feud with employees over demands for better salaries, with the Chinese lithium miner offering a US100 increment to the lowest paid employees.

The workers, though, are not happy with the new salary offer.

Employees are demanding a basic salary of US$600 for the lowest paid employees payable in real US dollars; arguing that the Masvingo-based Bikita Minerals exports its lithium-bearing minerals exclusively in US dollars.

“We will take our case to NEC (National Employment Council) because what they have offered is a far cry from what we suggested and expected. The company acknowledges improvement in production which is a result of our hard work as employees. Why then can’t they give us a living wage,” said the Zimbabwe Diamond and Allied Mining Workers Union (ZDAMWU) Bikita Minerals representative, Augostino Manyadze.

The NEC is responsible for setting minimum pay rates and adjudicating labour disputes.

Bikita Minerals is Zimbabwe’s largest lithium miner and also holds the largest deposits of the mineral that are estimated at 11 million tonnes.

Lithium is fast becoming one of Zimbabwe’s hottest minerals

Shenzhen-listed Sinomine acquired the company for US$180 million in January 2022 and announced a US$300 million investment to increase production and extend the life of the mine.

Employees have also been fighting for fairer terms in the payment of production bonuses commonly known as target bonuses.

This reporter saw a staff notice which outlines the new salary and bonus structure which has, however, been dismissed by many employees as mere tokenism.

Dated June 10 and signed by Zhenhua Wang, the managing director, the notice indicates that there will be a flat basic salary increase of US$100 for employees in Grade 1 – 13, while those in Grade 14 (managers) will get US$400 more.

The increment will be payable at 75 percent in real US dollars and 25 percent in the Zimbabwe dollar at the prevailing interbank rate.

This translates to a rise from the previous ratio of 60 percent for real US dollars and a drop from 40 percent for Zimbabwe dollars, which are considered too volatile to preserve value due to galloping exchange rates.

“Monthly production bonus shall continue to be guided by our performance against set target, and going forward, the allocated amount per tonne shall be US$9…In addition, management has also noted that some employees, by virtue of being absent, from work due to leave were not benefitting from production bonus.

“The individual bonus structures shall be as follows: 45% allocation of the bonus shall be shared equally by all employees, including those on leave, and the remaining 55% will be awarded based on individual performance, calculated against KPIs given by the department,” reads part of the notice.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are benchmarks by which an employee is considered highly, moderately or lowly productive.

A month ago, the government ordered Bikita Minerals to shut down till it addressed a host of complaints that included poor remuneration, unfair labour practices, poor environmental management and the employment of illegal Chinese immigrants.

The company resumed operations a week after, but employees claim not enough has been done to address concerns raised by the government.

Information for Development Trust (IDT) has supported coverage of abuses at Bikita Minerals that focused on labour malpractices that included poor and late payment of salaries, non-remittances of workers contributions to the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), lack of protective clothing and non-payment of benefits to employees on leave, among them pregnant women.

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