Sugar companies in Mozambique made about 2,000 workers redundant over the past year, according to Alexandre Munguambe, the general secretary of the country's main trade union federation, the OTM (Organisation of Mozambican Workers).
Speaking on Friday, and cited in the Maputo daily "Noticias", Munguambe said the redundancies resulted from economic factors which led to the "restructuring" of the sugar companies. More redundancies were likely over the coming year, he warned.
The company worst hit was Açucareira de Mafambisse, in the central province of Sofala, which is 85 per cent owned by the crisis-stricken South African group, Tongaat Hulett. Munguambe claimed that Tongaat Hulett had decided to diversify its investment, and had branched out into real estate, which compromised its sugar operations.
In Mafambisse, he added, the company ought to invest in opening new cane fields, while combatting saline intrusion into the sugar plantation, where yields were currently no more than 55 tonnes of cane by hectare.
The situation is more serious than Munguambe seemed to realise, since Tongaat Hulett is in deep trouble in South Africa.
Tongaat Hulett, which also owns 88 per cent of a second Mozambican sugar company, at Xinavane in Mauro province, has been accused of serious malpractice.
An investigation by the PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PwC) auditing company into Tongaat Hulett, found that a group of at least 10 senior executives at the company used accounting methods that led to profits and the value of certain assets being overstated.
PwC found there was "insufficient internal accountability, governance and financial oversight". This led the Tongaat Hulett board to consider taking legal action against those named in the PwC report, in order to recover bonuses and other benefits paid to them, and to have them declared "delinquent directors".
There have also been serious labour disputes in the Maragra sugar company, in Maputo province, where workers went on strike for more than a month to demand high wages.
90 per cent of the Maragra shares are owned by another South African group, Illovo. Munguambe blamed the strike on management intransigence. The company "was not open to dialogue", he said.
"It's incomprehensible that they could allow a strike to last for more than 30 days", he said. "This shows a lack of intelligence on the part of the management to avoid the situation".
Copyright Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com)., source News Service English