11 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Workers Attach Fire Tenders, Ambulances

Photo: IRIN
File photo: Raw sewage flowing

MASVINGO Town Council faces collapse after its workers attached tenders, ambulances, refuse collection trucks and computer servers with vital information in settlement of US$3,5 million salary arrears.

The council also lost water and sewer equipment, raising fears of an outbreak of waterborne diseases.

The Zimbabwe Urban Council Workers' Union, on behalf of the workers, recently obtained an arbitral award ordering council to pay its workers.

The award was registered at the High Court before property was removed from council offices.

Removal of property started last Wednesday, but it is yet to be auctioned.

The other property attached includes vehicles, office furniture and computers, including those used by the mayor, town clerk and directors.

In an urgent chamber application filed by the council at the High Court in Harare yesterday, acting town clerk Mr Lovemore Nyanyiwa said council was now paralysed and urged the High Court to intervene to curb total collapse.

Council is seeking to block the auctioning of the property pending determination of an application for rescission of the judgment.

The municipality argues that it has a pending application to rescind the judgment because it was granted in default.

Council contends that it had a strong case on the merits, but the notice of set down for the case was faxed to the wrong address, resulting in a default judgment.

"The entire fleet of Fire Brigade and equipment, Fire Brigade trucks, aluminum ladders, fore-hoses and fire tenders were attached," said Mr Nyanyiwa.

"I must point out that the said fire control equipment does not only service Masvingo town, but it also assists in any accidents that occur along the Masvingo-Beitbridge highway.

"Fire equipment also services Zvishavane, Zaka, Chivi, Mwenezi and Chiredzi."

Mr Nyanyiwa said council was no longer able to collect refuse.

"Applicant (council) is, therefore, unable to carry out refuse collection. Failure to collect refuse can lead to health crisis, which would place residents at risk of contracting sundry diseases including typhoid and cholera," he said.

The attachment of a water tank used to ferry water to areas with water challenges has also crippled the water supply system in the town.

Mr Nyanyiwa said water meter cabinets used for service delivery and trucks used to conduct water meter reading were also attached.

He wrote in his affidavit that council was collecting US$850 000 monthly against a wage bill of US$576 506.

The balance was not even enough for efficient service delivery and that an order to pay US$3,5 million would result in the total collapse of the municipality.

A visit by The Herald to the Masvingo town offices yesterday revealed a sorry state of affairs.

There were less than five council cars parked outside the Civic Centre after the rest were attached last week.

The council has resorted to hiring private lorries to collect refuse, while officials are apprehensive over the Messenger of Court's move to attach all the property.

Masvingo town clerk Mr Adolph Gusha refused to comment, while Mayor Alderman Femius Chakabuda was not reachable.

"I am sorry, there is nothing that I can say to you at the moment," said Mr Gusha.

Council sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity said the woes afflicting the town were a result of intense infighting and jockeying among the majority MDC-T councillors.

The sources alleged that there were some MDC-T councillors supporting the move by workers to sue council and attach its property.

They said such councillors wanted to collapse council operations as a way of taking a dig atAlderman Chakabuda who is accused of being too close to Zanu-PF.

The workers got an arbitral award on March 13 2011 and it was registered at the High Court.

Justice Andrew Mutema will hear the urgent chamber application tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Chitungwiza Municipality has suspended 26 workers for engaging in an illegal strike, while more than 700 others face a similar fate after being asked to explain themselves.

The suspensions follow a Labour Court ruling on November 31 which declared the collective job action was illegal after issuance of a show cause order by the Ministry of Labour and Social Services.

The workers' representative Mr Jacob Dhanda of the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions said yesterday that they had since sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court against the Labour Court judgment.

"More than half of the 1 443 workers have been served with letters demanding to explain their whereabouts during the strike, while 26 have been suspended from duty," said Mr Dhanda.

"We are concerned that the council is being selective in issuing the letters as all managers and heads of departments were also not on duty during the strike, but they have not been served with the letters."

Mr Dhanda said that the workers had now gone for four months without pay.

Chitungwiza Municipality lawyer Mr Rodgers Matsikidze said the workers would be charged for participating in the illegal collective job action.

"Each one will be charged according to the merits of his or her own case," he said.

"Aggravating factors to be considered are that some of the workers engaged in violence during the strike."

Labour Court senior president Ms Gladys Mhuri sitting with presidents Ms Euna Makamure and Ms Eurica Ndewere ruled on November 30 that the strike illegal for not complying with provisions of Section 104 of the Labour Act.

The local authority was also allowed to use its discretion to take disciplinary action in terms of its code of conduct.

It was also allowed to lay off or suspend, with or without pay, specified employees.

The council's workers committee was prohibited from collecting union dues from its members for a period of eight months from December 1.

The strike paralysed service delivery in the town for the three days that it took place.

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