Bulawayo business mogul Delma Lupepe has failed to pay his workers for a year with salary arrears reaching more than $300 000 amid allegations that some of them have died due to lack of medication.
The matter came to light during an urgent application made at the Labour Court by the workers assisted by the Zimbabwe Textiles Workers’ Union suing their employer, Merlin and Merspin Pvt Limited.
According to documents at the courts, case number Labour Court/MT 39/ 2010, Merspin, in which Lupepe is the major shareholder, last paid its workers in December last year.
In an application filed in May the employees revealed that Lupepe, through his company, had failed to pay them contrary to Statutory Instrument 30 of 2010 of the Labour Act.
The union is represented by Khumalo and Company Attorneys while Merspin represents itself.
The application’s certificate of urgency was signed by Kossam Ncube of Kossam Ncube and Associates. The workers through their workers’ committee chairman, identified as Mugurasave, wrote to Lupepe’s church, Seventh-Day Adventist, complaining of ill-treatment.
In a letter dated August 2, which is part of court documents directed to a Pastor Nyathi and Pastor Mvuti, the employees highlighted their plight.
“We are writing to inform you about the ill-treatment we are receiving from our employer Delma Lupepe whom we believe is your church member. We are a workforce of 250 employees and our employer has not been paying our wages and salaries for the past eight months. We have been reduced to scavengers by not being allowed to have access to basic necessities, such as food, medication, shelter, education for our children due to non-payment of our wages,” wrote Mugurasave.
He said some of the employees had died due to lack of medication because they had not been paid their dues.
“Some have chronic diseases such as diabetes, HIV and Aids, tuberculosis and other associated diseases. We have noted with great shock that our master (employer) has a craving appetite for donating and is nicknamed ‘The Great Donor’ around town, when we his employees are not being paid,” he wrote.
The workers highlighted that Lupepe prejudiced them of their fundamental rights according to the laws of the country.
“His reactions are contrary to the biblical teachings as read from the Holy Scriptures (cited). We do not believe that it’s your church policy to allow your members to abuse their workforce. You are free to come and see the situation for yourself. Some of us are sleeping on empty stomachs with some being thrown out of lodgings, so please remember us during the time you give your offerings to God.”
Labour Court president Justice Selo Nare on October 14 referred the matter to the National Employment Council for the Textile Industry for the case to be put before a tribunal for arbitration.
“In terms of Part 11 (Grievance Resolution Procedure- paragraphs 4 and 5 of Statutory Instrument 102 of 2002) the matter is placed before the Designated Agent or Grievance Tribunal for its resolution. That the grievance shall be dealt with within two weeks upon the Designated Agent and/or the Grievance Tribunal receiving the order,” ordered Nare.
In their urgent application to the Labour Court, the union and the workers applied that Lupepe through his company pay the outstanding salaries.