A group of 45 employees, recently suspended by Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company have exposed shabby deals and bad management practices by expatriate bosses at the company, describing their conduct as not different from that of the colonial masters.
The employees, who were working as field technicians have vowed to challenge the bosses’ decision to suspend or fire them using all legal means.
Speaking in an interview with Nyasa Times, 29 of the suspended employees took turns outlining bad management practices and scruffy deals by the expatriate bosses, whom they said were just bent at exploiting Malawian tobacco farmers and local workers at the company.
The workers singled out an American Seamus Gunton, head of the Agronomy Department as the most ruthless expatriate.
“Gunton came as a consultant but we were all surprised to see him taking over management of the Agronomy Department. He has no work permit and his issue was reported at the Immigration Department but for whatever reasons no action has been taken against him by the department up to now. Actually he is not the only expatriate working at Limbe Leaf without a permit.
“This is the most ruthless boss and he fires employees just by word of mouth. If he tells an employee that you will be fired, it happens and as we speak, 12 of our colleagues have been fired after being verbally told by him that they will lose their jobs,” claimed one of the suspended employees backed by her colleagues.
According to the suspended workers, Malawian bosses at the company simply rubber stamp decisions of the expatriates to safeguard their jobs.
The employees denounced the system of putting bail tags (barcodes) on tobacco bales under Limbe Leaf contract just as a way of exploiting Malawian farmers and self-enrichment by the expatriate bosses.
“For farmers to sell their tobacco under Limbe Leaf contract at the Auction Floors, they are forced to put barcodes on each tobacco bale. Without a barcode, the farmers cannot sell their tobacco under the banner of Limbe Leaf. No other tobacco company is using this system, which is just a way of exploiting farmers and self-enrichment on the part of the expatriates,” said another employee.
The barcode system, according to the workers was introduced by Thabang Segole, a South African, heading the company’s administration department and a lot of money is being paid to the South African supplier, whom the workers say has connections with Segole and the other expatriates.
“You will be surprised to see lavish lifestyle these people are living. They are driving latest expensive cars and giving each other fat bonuses while we field technicians and other local staff stopped receiving bonuses long time ago,” said another worker.
Apart from fighting for rights of other local staff at the company, the suspended field technicians vowed to challenge their suspensions or dismissals using all legal means.
“We are not relenting. We will fight to the bitter end because we did not do anything wrong. We were being accused of underperforming and failing to reconcile the barcodes yet we were not the ones distributing the barcodes to the farmers. The distribution was being done by bailing centre clerks,” said another suspender employee.
The workers said they feared for local farmers, who have been facing hassles to get the barcodes and struggling to have their tobacco sold at the auction floors.
They said the ill-treatment given to the field technicians, who were working hand in hand with the farmers would result in the tobacco farmers failing to repay loans they took from the company and planting their seed in time.
“Seed was supposed to be distributed to the farmers between September and October to enable the farmers play with the first rains but the distribution exercise is taking place now, meaning farmers under Limbe Leaf contract have missed the first rains.
Tobacco nurseries require 18 weeks before being transplanted to the main field and for farmers that are receiving their seed now, they will have to transplant when the auction floors will be about to open in March next year. Instead of shouldering the blame, the bosses will be accusing field technicians,” said one of the group members.
When furnished with the allegations and accusations, Limbe Leaf’s head of legal and corporate affairs Febbie Chikungwa said the workers were disgruntled at being suspended for breaching company rules and regulations.
“These are disgruntled individuals. They were suspended for breaching company rules and regulations and the suspensions are pending disciplinary hearings,” said Chikungwa.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :