Tazara battling to clear backlog after strike

Lusaka – A recent strike at the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara) has left over 3 000 tonnes of copper from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) grounded at various pick up points.

Operations at the railway company that carries freight and passengers between Tanzania and Zambia, came to a halt in late August 2013 after workers downed tools demanding payment of unpaid wages for May, June, July and August.

The cargo that was destined for export markets was stranded after more than 1 500 railway workers at the freight and passenger rail operator downed tools demanding better wages and conditions of service.

Despite the workers resuming work, the railway operator lost over US$1.6 million in revenue with a backlog of cargo to transport to various consumers of the red metal from two of Africa’s major producers, says Tazara spokesperson, Conrad Simuchile.

The governments of Zambia and Tanzania diffused the strike action after offering to meet more than US$6 million the workers needed to offset their wage arrears.

Media reports indicate that during the strike, the company had 13 trains operational ‑ nine in Tanzania and four in Zambia ‑ with 252 wagons and over 11 000 metric tons of cargo.

The stranded cargo was said to include 3 600 tonnes of copper, 630 metric tons of manganese, 3 015 tonnes of fertiliser, 1 170 metric tons of gas oil, and 1 665 tonnes of mixed goods. 

Zambia, Africa's top copper producer, exports part of its copper via the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. 

Demand for the railway firm to haul cargo on its line is two to three times higher than its capacity which has been limited by fewer locomotives and ageing infrastructure.

The two governments have both committed to develop the railway line to meet the growing demand for rail transportation of cargo. 

Meanwhile, Simuchile regretted the strike action, which he said had contributed to the fall in the company’s revenue.

“Before suspending operations, we were transporting an average 4 000 tonnes of copper cathodes from Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) every month,” Simuchile said.

Before the strike started, Tazara received three new locomotives and more are expected, which will boost its capacity and ability to haul and deliver more cargo at a faster pace.

Tazara is a joint venture between the two governments, with the assistance of the Chinese government, which built the railway line with a loan contribution of US$500 million in 1976 that was to be repaid over a 10-year period.

Recently, China cancelled 50 percent of the Tazara debt as a sign of good friendship among the three countries.

September 2013
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