20 December 2012

Zimbabwe: 2012 - Another Tumultuous Year

It was another chaotic year in the labour circles, with collective job actions and company closures intensifying during the fourth quarter of the year. More than 1 400 Chitungwiza Municipality workers went on strike in November.

The Minister of Labour and Social Services Ms Paurina Mupariwa issued a show cause order to the striking workers.

Labour Court senior president Ms Gladys Mhuri sitting with presidents Ms Euna Makamure and Ms Eurica Ndewere ruled the strike illegal for want of compliance with the provisions of Section 104 of the Labour Act.

Chitungwiza Municipality Workers' Committee was prohibited from collecting union dues from its members for a period of eight months from December1, 2012.

Chitungwiza was allowed in its discretion to take disciplinary action in terms of its code of conduct, lay off or suspend with or without pay specified employees.

Ten workers have since been fired, while more that 700 workers were served with letters demanding an explanation on their whereabouts during the strike. Twenty-six workers were suspended pending disciplinary hearing.

There was turmoil at Haddon Motors last month after more than 70 workers staged a demonstration that later turned violent when they deflated all the directors' vehicles before scribbling them with graffiti.

The demonstration followed the company's application for liquidation and indications by Haddon Motors that terminal benefits would only be paid after next year's harmonised elections.

The Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions questioned why the company which had been in existence for 60 years should be liquidated when it was involved in repairs and services, which involved little expenditure.

Haddon Motors initially issued the workers with a "Mutual Agreement to Terminate Employment," but the workers refused to sign citing the poor packages being offered. Government warned companies that hire middlemen and other companies to avoid engaging workers directly and paying gratuities, that the practice is illegal.

The practice is commonly known as labour broking, sub-contracting or casualising labour. Workers that have been mostly affected by the practice are in the food industry and beverage manufacturing.

The director of labour administration in the Ministry of Labour and Social Services Mr Paul Dzviti said that labour broking was illegal according to the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01).

He said that labour broking was mostly prevalent in South Africa and Namibia, but it was illegal in Zimbabwe and perpetrators faced prosecution.

More than 10 companies in Harare had engaged brokers who now "own" the workers.

Mr Dzviti's declaration follows a landmark arbitration award in favour of Stanley Takaendesa versus Schweppes (Pvt) Ltd ordering his reinstatement.

Arbitrator Mr Rodgers Matsikidze ruled that the engagement of Lorimark as a broker by Schweppes did not nullify Takaendesa's contract of employment.

He said that nothing changed except that Schweppes was now paying Lorimark to act as an employer on its behalf. Labour brokers offer commercial services yet the workers belong to the manufacturing sector and ultimately payment of gazetted wages becomes a problem.

Even if the workers win an arbitration award, it cannot be enforced as the broker has no assets that can be attached.

Out of the more than 100 000 workers in the food industry, only 18 000 are under direct employment and the NEC, while the wages of the rest and working conditions are haphazard. Suncrest Chickens, a division of CFI Holdings Crest Poultry Group (CPG) in November introduced short working hours for its employees citing financial challenges.

The decision to institute short working hours communicated to the workers through a notice signed by CPG managing director Dr Tapera Mpezeni and production director Mr Langton Mautsa.

The workers would be required to work certain days in a month, which would be communicated to them through their supervisors. The United Food and Allied Workers Union expressed concern at the notice in view of the fact that CFI the previous two days indicated that it was increasing breeding capacity.

Last month, CFI commissioned some environmentally friendly broiler houses at its Glenara Estates, which would see it breeding capacity by 35 percent.

The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange conglomerate invested US$2,6 million through its division -- CPG -- from loans it got from the Government's Dimaf and PTA Bank.

Negotiations for next year's farm wages have not yet been completed amid workers' concerns that the review process is long over due.

The gazetted minimum farm wage is pegged US$59 per month, with workers in the horticulture and kapenta sectors earning marginally better.Labour analysts have for long expressed concern at the state of affairs concerning wages in general agriculture, horticulture, kapenta and plantation farming sectors, which are well below the poverty datum line pegged at nearly US$600.

The National Employment Council for the Medical and Allied Industry held its inaugural stakeholders' meeting this month.

Staff from private hospitals and clinics, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, emergency medical services, maternity homes, dental, renal and radiology services attended the meeting.

Establishment of the NEC took seven years and faced a challenge from the Welfare for Education Trust, which claimed ownership of health personnel.

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