MEIKLES Group of Companies has been accused of unfair labour practices after the firm reportedly gave each of its retrenched workers six used dinner plates as gratuity payouts after working for the company for several years, it has been learnt.
Workers’ committee chairpersons for the group’s diverse portfolios made the disclosure when they appeared before the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment chaired by Harare Metropolitan Senator Cleveria Chizema (Zanu PF).
They added that in some instances workers were given used hotel beds, television sets or even offered two or three-night free hotel accommodation with their spouses as gratuity.
The group runs Meikles Hotels, Meikles Stores, Tanganda Tea and TM Supermarkets.
The workers’ representatives added the John Moxon-led group misled government into believing that it had complied with the indigenisation policy by ceding 10% shares to workers.
“I was surprised when I heard retiring staff from Meikles [waiters] were given dinner plates and two or three nights at the hotel with their wives as pension,” Tanganda Tea Company workers’ committee chairperson Simon Madzivire said.
Meikles Hotels workers’ committee chairman Rodney Mutinhiri added: “They were given six plates and six jugs and one of them even broke his plates while jostling to get into a commuter omnibus at Charge Office bus terminus.
“Others even refused the offer to spend nights with their wives at the hotel saying it was an insult. The problem is that as Meikles Group of Companies we do not have a central workers’ council as each unit has its own workers’ council.”
Mutinhiri said workers were never given a chance to air their views on the company’s employee share ownership scheme where they were told they would get 10% shareholding.
“When the deed of trust was produced, workers were not consulted and a representative from the Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment ministry called Fungati was the one who was present. They said 60% of the trustees would come from employees while 40% would be derived from the company. Employees had no money and so for purposes of purchasing our shares they borrowed $1,4 million from our Old Mutual Pension Fund without consulting workers and to date that amount has accrued interest and is now $1,6 million. This has left us with no pensions,” he said.
He said workers bought eight million shares and Moxon told workers that government owed $97 million to Meikles which was being held at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. They claimed that Moxon said once that money was released they would settle the outstanding balance of purchase of workers’ shares.
But the workers felt shortchanged in the share deal as it would take them up to 50 years to start declaring dividends on their shares after management told them they would get their shares once the shares were fully paid up and share certificates issued.
TM Supermarkets workers’ committee chairman David Tunhira said the group recently published a profit of $37 million but there was no declaration of dividends to shareholders.
“It is clear that there is dilly dallying, delaying tactics and prohibitive measures to ensure workers do not benefit,” Tunhira said.
He added: “There are weaknesses in government follow-up measures to find out if the company is complying and if workers are benefiting and we want Parliament to help us on that. Workers are harassed and if one does a slight mistake they are dismissed because it is easy to replace a worker. There is too much contracting of jobs to make it easier to fire an employee.”