UNIONISED workers at the Tanzania Zambia Railways (TAZARA) in Mpika yesterday protested against their none payment of salary arrears in which they damaged some company property and forced some travelers to move to another train.
The workers were demanding that their salaries, which is quoted in dollars, be paid at a rate that was favourable and that all four and not two unpaid salary arrears should be paid.
TAZARA head, public relations Conrad Simuchile said the workers in Mpika protested against management’s announcement that only two of the four months’ salary arrears would be paid from the US$9.2million grant from the two shareholding governments, Zambia and Tanzania.
Mr Simuchile said the workers became unruly after being addressed by the Regional general manager, Patrick Shangala, who explained to them that Government would be releasing the money in batches and that from the first batch, only two months’ salary arrears would be paid and that the other two months’ arrears would be cleared from subsequent releases from the two governments.
“In their unruly behavior, the workers vandalised the reception at the Mpika Regional Offices, tampered with and immobilised two locomotives by removing some components from the engines.
“They also disconnected electricity power supply to the workshops, depot and railway station,” he said.
Mr Simuchile said one of the locomotives that was tampered with was conveying passengers at the time, and the action not only immobilised the passenger train, but inconvenienced 79 passengers who had to be rescued by the Zambia Railways passenger train that was also heading to Kapiri Mposhi.
This he said, cost TAZARA K4,364.00 to transfer the passengers to the Zambia Railways train.
Mr Simuchile said tempering with equipment and critical installations was a criminal offence and TAZARA has since reported the matter to police who have launched investigations and those involved had been arrested.
TAZARA Workers Union of Zambia (WUTAZ) president Kenneth Simwiza said in an interview that the union was disappointed that after agreeing with management in May to always agree on a favourable exchange rate before salaries were paid, management had prepared pay slips showing that the salaries would be paid at an exchange rate, not favourable to workers.
Mr Simwiza said the initial agreement was reached in order to harmonise salaries between Zambian and Tanzanian workers.
“You can imagine, at the time a person’s salary was to be paid months ago, it could have been K1,500 and that person is only paid K1, 100, meaning that people have lost money,” he said.
Mr Simwiza said workers were also aggrieved that they would only be paid two months salary arrears instead of four.
He said the union would engage the workers and management to bring back harmony to the company because protests were not the best solution to problems.
Mr Simwiza said the union would also try to get nine members that were reported to have been arrested by police, released.
Police Spokesperson Charity Chanda said the workers had conducted a peaceful protest marching to the District Commissioner’s office and no worker was under arrest by Press time.