FORESTRY Commission of Zimbabwe (FCZ) workers have dragged their employer to the Ministry of Labour on allegations of unfair labour practices after the parastatal tried to block them from joining a trade union of their choice.
The workers claimed the commission had deliberately failed to deduct trade union subscription fees from more than 100 employees who had signed up to join the Zimbabwe Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union (ZFTATU) .
The workers said this was a clear violation of their constitutional right to freedom of association.
"Respondent needs to be clearly guided that Zimbabwe is a member state of the International Labour Organisation which ratified the convention on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organise [ILO Conventions 87 and 89]," said the workers in their grounds of appeal.
"It is further clearly stated under Section 50 of the Labour Act that every employee shall be entitled to membership of any registered trade union which represents his/her undertaking or industry."
The workers are also seeking that the commission pay all the trade union fees which the company was supposed to have deducted from their salaries with effect from April 30 2012 to date.
But the commission's human resources and administration manager, Sukoluhle Nkiwane said ZFTATU or the National Employment Council for the Lumber, Milling Timber Processing and Trading had no right to claim to be the legitimate representatives of the workers.
She claimed that ZFTATU officials had "made an intrusion" into their premises when they recruited the members.
Nkiwane said most of the workers who signed the recruitment forms had been coerced or cheated into joining the union after being falsely promised improved remuneration and assistance with collective bargaining.
"Membership forms were distributed to the employees and unfortunately, some joined out of ignorance," said Nkiwane. "However, after realising that they had joined a union that was irrelevant to the undertaking, the gross misrepresentation to which they had been subjected and the consequent levying of five percent on their wages, a huge number of employees approached management and pleaded not to have their membership effected through the levy deductions."
However, workers who spoke on condition of anonymity challenged the employer to produce evidence to prove that they had opted out of the union voluntarily.
Ian Makoshori, the ZFTATU Paralegal Officer, maintained that the workers fell under the NEC for Lumber Milling and Processing.
"Although the Forestry Commission gets a grant from the government, its workers are not uniformed forces or are they civil servants. They have got a company Code of Conduct unlike other government departments," he said. "What these people want is to have the workers under the Agriculture and Plantation sector, which pays far less than the timber and allied trades sector."
The case was adjourned to allow the Forestry Commission to furnish the court with evidence that the workers approached management pleading that they had been duped into signing the forms.