19 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Court Throws Out Air Zim Workers' Application

Air Zimbabwe workers have failed to have the airline placed under provisional judicial management and be reconstructed. The workers' lawyer Mr Caleb Mucheche said he would appeal against the High Court judgment since it was based on a technicality. Justice Lavender Makoni dismissed the application on the two preliminary points that had been raised by Air Zimbabwe's lawyer Advocate Thembinkosi Magwaliba.

Adv Magwaliba argued that the workers' unions, the National Airways Workers' Union and the Air Transport Union, that filed the application on behalf of the workers had no legal standing to do so.

He argued that the unions had no right to come to court with the application considering that there were no appropriate resolutions authorising them to do so.

It was also the company's argument that the workers ought to have waited for three weeks after writing a letter of demand for their debt before filing a court application to place the airline, which is legally a private limited company, under judicial management.

The airline submitted that the workers went on to file the application before the expiry of the three weeks provided for at law, rendering the application invalid.

Justice Makoni only read the operative part of the judgment that dismissed the application on the preliminary point of legal standing.

She upheld the airline's objection that the unions had no legal standing to sue on behalf of the individual workers.

Justice Makoni said the full judgment would be made available in due course.

Mr Mucheche said the ruling was technical and he would soon challenge it at the Supreme Court.

"The matter was dismissed on a technicality. The judge made findings on the point in limine that the unions had no loci standi (legal standing)," he said.

"We are going to appeal against the judgment at the Supreme Court."

Adv Magwaliba said the judgment came at a time when Air Zimbabwe was preparing to resume operations.

"It is a victory for the airline. In short, Air Zimbabwe is free to fly," said Adv Magwaliba.

Air Zimbabwe owes its workers and other creditors at least US$140 million.

The workers' outstanding salaries and benefits amount to US$35 million.

After the airline failed to pay its workers fully since 2009, the workers wrote a letter of demand to the employer in January.

They subsequently filed an application to have the company placed under judicial management.

In May, the High Court blocked Air Zimbabwe Holdings from disposing of its shareholding in National Handling Services pending determination of the workers' application for the airline to be placed under judicial management.

While an application to place Air Zimbabwe under judicial management over debts was pending, the workers picked up information that there was Government communication directing the company's group chief executive to transfer the shares to a Government nominee firm.

The workers felt the move was meant to strip Air Zimbabwe of its assets and frustrate the pending court application.

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