Sino-Zim challenges Labour Court on employees’ contract extension

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Sino-Zim, a joint venture between the governments of Zimbabwe and China, has approached the Supreme Court challenging the Labour Court’s order compelling it to renew the cancelled fixed-term contracts of its 29 employees.

BY CHARLES LAITON

According to the court papers, the employees cited as respondents, Knowledge Hlomayi and 28 others were employed by Sino-Zim on fixed-term contract basis while operating in diverse capacities from 2006 to 2012.

It is said they were employed on three-month contracts that were renewed over a period ranging from seven months to seven years, meaning every three months they would sign new contracts.

In the contracts signed, it is alleged there was a clause which read: “The signing or renewal of this contract does not serve as any promise for future permanent employment.”

However, following the expiry of their respective fixed-term contracts on the December 31 2012, Sino-Zim is said to have refused to re-engage its contract workers, prompting them to approach the courts in January 2013 citing unfair dismissal.

When the matter was heard in the Labour Court, Sino-Zim was ordered to re-engage its employees, a decision it sought to challenge in the Supreme Court.

“There is no paramount principle of public policy that has been violated by parties entering freely into a contract for a specific duration of time,” Sino-Zim said in the court papers.

“The employer cannot be compelled to keep the employees on employment, whether or not he likes. That entirely defeats the freedom enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

“In the premises, therefore, the appellant prays that the present appeal be allowed, the judgment of the Labour Court be set aside and in its place, a judgment be granted dismissing the respondent’s appeal to the Labour Court with costs.”

In their answering affidavits, the employees said the only issue that was referred for compulsory arbitration was a determination on whether or not they were unfairly dismissed and, if so, the remedy thereof.