May 27 -- Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority, manager of the link that connects Tanzania's port of Dar es Salaam to Zambia's copper mines, said cargo volumes may be 14 percent below target this year because of work stoppages.
The strikes may also curb expansion plans, amid pledges by companies including Vedanta Resources Plc's Konkola Copper Mines to triple shipments on the line if capacity is increased, Conrad Simuchile, spokesman for the Dar es Salaam- based authority, said in an interview on May 25. The stoppages were triggered by disputes over the nationality of employees as well as delays in paying wages, he said.
"We have had illegal work stoppages every month for the past 10 months," Simuchile said. "We have lost not less than $4 million over the past 10 months due to work stoppages.
We have had illegal work stoppages every month for the past 10 months,” Simuchile said. “We have lost not less than $4 million over the past 10 months due to work stoppages.”
Zambia is Africa’s biggest copper producer. Shipments of the metal rose 0.9 percent in the first quarter to 200,037 tons, according to data on the Bank of Zambia’s website. The southern African nation is targeting production of 900,000 tons this year, up from 819,000 tons in 2010, according to the central bank.
Tazara, as the company is know, manages the 1,860- kilometer (1,156-mile) railroad that links Dar es Salaam to New Kapiri Mposhi outside Lusaka, the Zambian capital. Tanzanian employees of Tazara, as the authority is known, have complained that the company prefers to hire Zambian workers and that their salaries aren’t paid on time.
The statement quoted the management as saying the authority has begun resolving some of the problems that nearly set off another round of strikes only days ago.
It said new arrangements have been made under which “local cash flow isn’t wholly dependent on revenue collection in Zambia, ensuring that if ever there is any delay in transferring funds to Tazara’s Dar es Salaam headquarters, the railroad carrier gets access to short-term financing from a local financial institution”.
Simuchile called the transfer problem “unavoidable”, saying that was because Zambia is the largest revenue collection point for the carrier and the money has to be consequently moved to the Dar es Salaam headquarters “before it is processed and recapitalised”.
He said all of Tazara’s 2,800 employees have been received their salaries for last month “and salaries for May will be issued on schedule, by the end of the month”.
The statement said the management “understands that it cannot break this vicious cycle of accusations and strikes without the cooperation of its employees”.
“We need the support of everybody,” it said, adding that workers and management would have to “find common ground to move the railways outfit forward”.
Tazara’s statement was a response to recent calls from employees to the governments of Tanzania and Zambia to pressure the carrier to pay their salaries promptly.
The workers argued that the carrier was financially insecure and not in a position to meet its payroll obligations, adding in a statement: “If (Tazara) cannot buy fuel for its passenger trains, how can they pay us?”
In its heyday, Tazara operated a fleet of passenger and cargo trains on the 1,860-kilometre Chinese built line once fondly referred to as the “Great Uhuru Railway”. It is now however reeling under the weight of operational problems.
The railway’s construction then stood as the largest single project ever undertaken jointly by Tanzania and Zambia and the largest single economic assistance project ever financed by the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, Tazara workers in Mbeya have been on strike for three consecutive days to press for payment of their salaries. This has prompted intervention by top officials of the Tanzania Railway Workers Union (TRAWU), with deputy chairman Mussa Kalala telling the workers that they (the union) met Transport minister Omari Nundu recently “and all your claims and demands were presented to him”.
He said the union has given the minister until today to respond to their grievances, including those involving former Tazara employees.