Re­trenchees fall on hard times

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News/opinion -

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

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