More than 10 000 workers at Tongaat-Hulett Sugar subsidiaries Triangle Limited, Hippo Valley, Mkwasine and Mwenezana Estates have protested to their employer over a decision to bar them from joining a union of their choice.
The Anglo American-owned company is deducting US$5 per month from the workers' salaries and remitting it to a union they refused to join. The workers say they renounced their membership with the Zimbabwe Sugar Milling Industry Workers' Union because it was not fully representing them and constantly raised subscriptions.
The dispute has raged since 2010 when the workers said they preferred to join the Sugar, Plantation and Milling Workers' Union. But Tongaat Hulett has continued to administer the check-off system on behalf of the ZSMIWU and remitting their contributions. The workers have now hired a Harare lawyer, Advocate Caleb Mucheche, to fight their case.
Adv Mucheche yesterday confirmed he was the workers' lawyer and a meeting would soon be held between the company's management, workers and the political leadership in Masvingo.
"We were supposed to hold a meeting in December with Mr Dzikamai Mavhaire, who is to mediate in the dispute. But the meeting failed to take place and we expect to hold it soon to address the workers' grievances," said Adv Mucheche.
The workers had initially sought, in vain, the intervention of the Ministry of Labour and Social Services.
They then approached the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Mr Didymus Mutasa, who referred the matter to Zanu-PF secretary for labour and production Mr Mavhaire.
Adv Mucheche said the ZSMIWU could no longer represent the workers as they had a constitutional right to choose their representative.
"Membership to a union is by choice and it's like belonging to a club where you can renounce your membership at any time," said Adv Mucheche.
"We've written, in vain, to the employer to stop deducting contributions to ZSMIWU. If our meeting with management and Mr Mavhaire fails to yield any results, we'll sue the company and the union," he said.
Adv Mucheche said by continuing to make deductions against the employees' wishes, Tongaat Hulett Sugar was abusing the payroll system. He said deductions could be continued without consent only in a creditor-debtor relationship.
"To that effect, we've already instructed the workers to start quantifying all the monies that was deducted from their salaries with a view to recovering it through legal means. Although ZSMIWU claims to represent these workers, they don't even have a Collective Bargaining Agreement and are poorly remunerated without any negotiations taking place," said Adv Mucheche.