By Chipo Musoko, HARARE, July 22 (The Source) – The country’s biggest labour union, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) on Thursday said it is ready to stage demonstrations if government fails address the fallout from last week’s Supreme Court ruling allowing employers to dismiss workers on notice and without severance packages.
Last Friday the Supreme Court agreed with the conclusion of the Labour Court that Zuva Petroleum Private Limited was entitled at law to give notice terminating the employment of its workers who were suing the company for illegal dismissal in terms of the contracts of employment between the parties.
This has been interpreted by some companies to mean that they can give a notice period and dismiss workers, a development which has enraged labour unions but has been roundly welcomed by businesses, most of which were struggling to lay off staff for fear of incurring huge severance costs.
On Wednesday, The Herald reported that 700 employees have lost their jobs in less than a week following the ruling, as companies moved to quickly shed jobs without additional cost as previously thought. Some workers were reportedly served termination letters at home on Sunday, two days after the ruling.
Firms such as TN Harlequin, Pelhams, Steward Bank and Zimoco are reported to have wasted no time in laying off staff using the newfound protection of the court ruling.
“The ZCTU is prepared to hold street demonstrations until the government finds a lasting solution until the labour law reform process is done,” the labour union said in a statement on Wednesday.
It said it has engaged government through the recently revived Tripartite Negotiating Forum — comprising labour, government and business — which agreed that the Presidential Powers Temporary Measures be invoked “to stop these senseless terminations, otherwise workers will be left with no option but to flood the streets to vent their anger.”
“Already thousands of jobs have been lost within a week and if there are no special measures put in place more workers will be out of employment,” read the statement.
“The dismissals are more of victimisation purges than genuine restructuring exercises and have turned the workplace into a nightmare.”
ZCTU said while it acknowledged the legal rights of parties to an employment contract, it viewed the latest ruling as wrongly interpreted and meant to mislead the population that employers and employees had the same rights.
It appealed to the government to act fast to prevent further job losses while calling for the establishment of a special Labour Appeals Court to handle labour issues.
Government is currently drafting the amendments to the Labour Act and the principal reforms were approved recently with a Bill expected to be tabled in Parliament before yearend.
Labour minister Priscah Mupfumira recently warned companies against laying off employees “willy-nilly” saying that there was need to protect workers.
She said the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF), made up of government, labour and business, would work towards addressing the plight of workers.
Recently government made it mandatory for companies wishing to lay off workers to provide information on performance, measures taken to improve situation and wage bills, including those of directors and executives before retrenchment.
But this has now been overridden by the Supreme Court ruling which has seen companies using it to fire workers.
The country has an estimated unemployment rate of 80 percent — although official figures place it at 11 percent. At least 4,600 companies closed shop between 2011 and October last year, with nearly 65,000 workers losing their jobs.