WORKERS on Saturday warned government of street protests and civil unrest unless it acts to stop the on-going massive job losses.
OBEY MANAYITI/XOLISANI NCUBE
Several companies have in the past week been taking advantage of the Supreme Court ruling legalising termination of employment on three months’ notice and without benefits.
Many of these companies had a bloated workforce and were struggling to pay salaries.
The Supreme Court two weeks ago came to their rescue when it ruled that employers could terminate workers’ contracts by giving three months, notices and pay no terminal benefits.
At a highly charged meeting held at Stodart Hall, workers’ representatives from all over the country said they would not sit and watch while workers were being dismissed.
United Food and Allied Workers Union secretary-general, Adonia Mutero told The Standard on the sidelines of the meeting that employees would embark on massive demonstrations and “crippling” strikes to stop the job cuts.
“This is a declaration of war and as the working class in Zimbabwe, we are not going to allow such things to take place. We are going to mobilise our people as a mechanism to stop this madness which is going to cause untold suffering on us,” Mutero said.
“It will cause civil unrest and I can assure you, as long as government does not stop it, as workers we will act on them. As a resolution from the workers themselves, we are going to embark on massive demonstrations to ensure that President Robert Mugabe invokes his powers to stop this madness.”
Over 200 worker representatives who attended the Stodart meeting sang and danced as they denounced the Supreme court ruling.
So far more than 6 000 workers have reportedly lost their jobs and labour activists have called on Mugabe to invoke presidential powers to restore order in the labour market as employers act “carelessly to fire workers and avoid paying retrenchment packages”.
“This ruling effectively means that all employees are now contract workers and they only get three months’ salary even if one had worked for 20 years. They will only be given peanuts at the end of it all,” said Mutero.
Labour bodies and other stakeholders said the gains workers attained since independence had all but vanished as employers could now fire employees willy-nilly.
But labour consultant Request Manhibi said evoking the Presidential Temporary Powers would send a wrong message to the international community and portray Zimbabwe as a lawless nation.
“While it might be useful and necessary . . . democratically it portrays the country as a lawless country. We have all necessary mechanisms to address the issue. It’s just that companies are being trigger happy,” he said.
The Zimbabwe Labour Centre said following the ruling, permanent employment in Zimbabwe was no longer guaranteed.
“This judgement has opened gates for the workers to be hired on cheap wages and also be dismissed cheaply or to go empty handed without payment of retrenchment packages,” added the organisation which seeks to empower the working class on their rights and obligations.
The organisation said women were the biggest losers in that whenever employers felt uncomfortable with paying for maternity leave, they could just fire the female employees when they got pregnant.
“Maternity leave is now under attack as pregnant women can be given termination of notice with the employer avoiding to pay salary while one is on maternity leave,” added ZLC.
Buhera South legislator Joseph Chinotimba, who is also the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions second vice-president, said the Supreme Court judges should be called to re-interpret their ruling as he felt that employers misunderstood the ruling.
“I don’t see what is happening in our country now as a good thing. The ruling has affected a lot of us and the judges should just re-interpret what they meant,” said Chinotimba.
“This will affect even domestic workers. I am still a worker and as a worker of the people, I think there should be some respect for employees,” he added.
ZCTU Secretary-General Japhet Moyo also urged Mugabe to intervene.
“After independence in 1980 there was a similar interpretation on the law and there was the intervention of the Presidential Powers Temporary Measures which was used by the Head of State to stop random termination of contracts. Our view is that government should do that now as well,” Moyo said.
Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Prisca Mupfumira last week said government would expeditiously amend the Labour Act to stem the inconsistences which have seen companies firing workers willy-nilly.
She said while the government was of the view that the Supreme Court judges acted in accordance with the law, the Tripartite Negotiating Forum comprising government, workers and employers would soon come up with a “win- win situation.”
The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries has also called on companies to exercise restraint.
Among the companies that took advantage of the ruling to lay off workers were Pelhams, Econet Wireless, Steward Bank, TN Harlequin, Croco Motors, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe who are publishers of the Daily News and Daily News on Sunday, Mike Appel and Zimasco among others.
The Zimbabwe Informal Sector’s Association (Ziso) said the ruling would lead to massive retrenchments and vulnerability of employees, which would then translate to increased emigration, putting more pressure on neighbouring countries’ economies.