By Chipo Musoko, HARARE, May 14 (The Source) – The labour union representing sacked Mbada Diamonds workers has appealed to the National Employment Council for the mining industry to mediate in the dispute, calling dismissals ‘unlawful.’
The Zimbabwe Diamond Miners Workers Union (ZDMWU) wants the NEC to mediate in the case of 159 of the 240 Mbada workers who were fired on Tuesday after going on strike over non-payment of salaries.
The workers were part of a group of 300 who downed tools last Friday demanding to be paid outstanding salaries for eight months. About 240 were rendered jobless after the company responded by terminating contracts that were expiring in June.
However, officials said the terminations were a security measure used in the diamond mining sector to minimise potential losses.
“Workers whose contracts are coming to an end are a security risk in that they could steal (diamonds). The idea of having them serve their notice period at home is to minimise such risk,” said an official familiar with the diamond mining operations, who declined to be named as he is not authorised to speak for the company.
ZDMWU wrote to the NEC on Wednesday appealing for conciliation on behalf 159 workers it was representing.
“It is the claimants’ (workers) argument that it is unlawful of the respondent (Mbada Diamonds) not to pay them their salaries for such a long period,” the union said in the letter seen by The Source.
The union said failing to pay salaries of workers was a violation of the labour law which makes it an offence for a company to fail to meet its obligations to workers and gives them the right not to be unfairly dismissed.
ZDMWU claims that initially, workers had been given short notice to appear for disciplinary hearings on Monday following the job boycott, but these were later abandoned after the company realized it was in breach of the law and instead terminated contracts.
“Further, the employer was not supposed to abandon the hearing process. Instead, they were supposed to follow the proper procedure in conducting those hearings. It therefore makes no sense for respondent to tell claimants that they will be serving their notice periods from home,” ZDMWU said.
The union also complained about changes to the contracts of workers which were reduced from two years to one year six months and eventually to six months calling the exercise “unfair.”
Earlier, the union had also written to the NEC over non-payment of wages and reduction of period of contracts to six months which it deemed an unfair labour practice.
Workers, who earn an average of $250 per month, said they had not received their salaries since last September while they were paid half salaries in February this year and allowances ranging between $200 and $400 in April.
“It is claimants’ (workers) argument that is unlawful of the respondent (Mbada) to change their contracts of employment without consulting them. Further, not paying them their salaries is unlawful,” said ZDMWU.
In the dismissal letters seen by The Source, Mbada undertook to pay all outstanding payments on a monthly basis spreading over a period of four months.
Mbada is a joint venture between South Africa’s New Reclamation Group-owned Grandwell Holdings and the Zimbabwe government’s mining investment vehicle Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation.
Other miners in the Chiadzwa area include Marange Resources, Diamond Mining Company (DMC), Gye Nyame, Anjin and Jinan.