Retrenchees fall on hard times
If there is anything that has sky-rocketed as fast as corruption in Zimbabwe, it is the acceleration of hordes of former industry workers towards the precipice of pauperism. In his novel Matigari, Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o wrote, “There is not a long night that does not end with day”. However, for thousands of workers who lost their jobs in industry following last year’s Supreme Court ruling, which gave employers the leeway to dismiss workers without costs related to retrenchment, the long night of their economic hardships appears to have no end.
Most of these workers have endured much suffering, patiently hoping their employers would pay them their dues in line with the provisions of the new labour laws on retrenchment that were effected last year. But alas, true to their nature, employers in industry have stubbornly refused to compensate these workers for the loss of their jobs.
The floodgates of litigation have opened wide and employers are using all kinds of delaying tactics, with the help and assistance of some corrupt trade unionists, labour officers and unethical lawyers, to frustrate workers as they demand their dues. As we wait to see how this socio-economic drama ends we can be assured of one thing – that the suffering of the sacked workers will worsen.
“I lost my job in July last year after serving my employers for 34 years .What pains me most is that I received a paltry severance package of $642, which is equivalent to just three months’ pay. I had a bank loan at the time and after the bank had recovered its dues, I remained with nothing. I am now in economic dire straits and cannot relocate to my rural home because I have no money. I have been forcibly evicted from my lodgings after failing to pay my rent. Furthermore, I am failing to feed, clothe, send my children to school and provide decent shelter for them since I am no longer gainfully employed and am staying with a relative on a small plot near Heany Junction,” said Mr Poverty Ndlovu, a former worker.
How anyone is expected to survive after being sacked without benefits defeats all facets of common sense and logic. Dismissed workers need to re-arrange their lives and benefits should provide a cushion for that .The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has, on countless occasions, made feeble statements that all employers who dismissed workers following the July 17 Supreme Court ruling should comply with Clause 5 of the Amended Labour Act and compensate the workers.
However, the heart-rending reality is that the ZCTU has failed ignominiously to use its power and influence as a labour movement to compel employers to compensate these workers. On July 17, 2015, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and four Supreme Court judges ruled that the common law position placing employees and employers at par was operational.
Sadly though, this ruling triggered a tsunami of job losses across all sectors of the economy leaving thousands of once gainfully employed workers bobbing up and down in the chilly waters of joblessness.
According to the ZCTU, over 28 000 workers lost their jobs after employers said they were exercising their rights in terms of the common law and in line with the Supreme Court interpretation of that law. This prompted the Government to step in and amend the law.
Clause 5 of the Labour Amendment Act states that all workers, who lost their jobs on contract termination are entitled to minimum retrenchment benefits that include one month’s salary for every two years of service. This applies to both retrenchees in general and workers whose contracts were terminated on or after July 17, 2015 with employers required to pay up “no later than the date when the notice of termination of employment takes effect.”
This clause repeals parts of Section 12 (c) of the Labour Act dealing with retrenchment procedures and creates the compensation provision in section 12 c(2).
It reads, “Unless better terms are agreed between the employer and employees concerned or their representatives, a package (herein called “the minimum retrenchment package”) of not less than one month’s salary or wages for every two years of service as an employee (or the equivalent lesser proportion of one month’s salary or wages for a lesser period of service) shall be paid by the employer as compensation for loss of employment”.
Early this year, Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Mr Busisa Moyo said companies are not able to pay compensation to sacked workers as provided for in Clause 5 of the Amended Labour Act due to financial constraints.
This now raises a number of pertinent questions. Firstly, if companies are financially hamstrung and cannot compensate sacked workers, then where is the money that employers – especially those in industry – are investing in luxurious vehicles for top management coming from?
Secondly, why do the already hefty salaries and allowances of top management in industry continue to be hiked if companies are in the doldrums of profitability?
And why does top management in industry continue to be treated like a sacred cow and not expected to experience a decline in its living standards notwithstanding the fact that Zimbabwe’s economy is currently unfriendly.
According to media reports, some top managers in industry earn upwards of $10 000 a month before allowances and other perks are factored in. They cavort about the industrial sites in obscene opulence in some of the latest luxury vehicles.
And yet they aver that they do not have the financial wherewithal to compensate workers for the loss of their jobs. What a shocking paradox!
Cuthbert Mavheko is a freelance journalist and has contributed articles and short-stories to and other publications since 1995.
Retrenched workers outside a Bulawayo factory in this file photo