THE Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) yesterday described the recent labour ruling by Supreme Court giving employers the leeway to terminate employees’ contracts after giving a three months’ notice and avoid paying retrenchment packages as tantamount to turning all the country’s workforce into temporary workers.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo told NewsDay that his union had already approached government with representations on possible corrective action.
“What that judgment effectively does is to turn every worker in the country into a temporary worker. But then the implication on the economy will be felt far and wide, by banks that advance loans to workers on the understanding that their jobs are secure,” Moyo said.
“It will also be felt by departmental stores that advance merchandise on credit on the understanding that the workers’ jobs are secure. It turns everything upside down and turns employers into brutal economic players.”
He added: “We have already made representations to the government and the response has been encouraging. We are urging the Minister to invoke Section 17 of the Labour Act to promulgate a Statutory Instrument that will change the status quo.
“Government understands that the judges were only interpreting the law, but then the minister has power to determine the relationship between the employer and employee. There is nothing autocratic about it and we have seen it when last week the President (Robert Mugabe) invoked Presidential Powers to protect the property of the Premier Service Medical Aid Society.”
Legal expert and social commentator Alex Magaisa described the passing of the judgment as a “dark day for labour in Zimbabwe”.
“What the court has said, in effect, is that the employer can simply ignore those elaborate and strict redundancy procedures and get rid of employees by giving them notice to terminate employment. In fact, almost the entire Labour Relations Act now reads like a useless piece of legislation in light of the judgment,” Magaisa said, adding this could not have been the aim of the legislature in crafting this piece of legislation.
“More shocking is the fact that there was unanimity among the judges of the Supreme Court in such an important matter. Not a single judge offered a dissenting opinion or different reasoning.”
While admitting the courts have in the past come to similar conclusions on related matters, “the position was not as emphatic and clear-cut as the court has now pronounced in the Zuva case”.
“The court’s error was to treat termination of employment on notice as a method of severing an employment relationship which is exclusive from dismissal. In other words, in its reasoning, termination of employment on notice is just one other way of ending a contract alongside, but exclusive of dismissal, retrenchment and the end of a fixed-term contract. This, with respect, is flawed reasoning,” he said.
Labour minister Prisca Mupfumira was not available for comment yesterday.