Mpofu loses case against journos

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Obert Mpofu

MACRO-ECONOMIC Planning and Investment Promotion minister Obert Mpofu has lost a labour case where he was refusing to pay terminal benefits to 20 journalists formerly employed by his now-defunct The Zimbabwe Mail newspaper.

by AUDREY MUTASA

Obert Mpofu
Obert Mpofu

Last week arbitrator, Zakeyo Mtimtema, who heard the case, ruled that the workers remained in Mpofu’s employ until he paid them their dues.

At the closure of the paper early this year, the journalists had gone for almost half a year without pay, prompting them to take legal action against the Zanu PF secretary for finance demanding their outstanding salaries.

The Zimbabwe Mail was forced to close in March this year about 15 months after it hit the streets in late 2013.

The arbitration process, according to documents, dragged for about three months, with Mpofu’s legal representative constantly seeking the postponement of the matter, citing various reasons.

Mtimtema was appointed by the Ministry of Public Service, but Mpofu reportedly tried to wriggle out of the process at the 11th hour, arguing the arbitrator had no locus standi.

“Respondent argued that the tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear this matter because the labour officer, who referred the matter to arbitration lacks jurisdiction. The parties fall under the National Employment Council (NEC) for the Printing, Packaging and Newspaper Industry, hence, they are covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement: Printing, Packaging and Newspaper Industry Statutory Instrument 174 of 2012,” the Cabinet minister, through his lawyers, reportedly argued.

But the workers, through their lawyers Matsikidze and Mucheche, opposed the points “raised in limine (to pull the rug from under the other party)”.

“The claimants argue that they are not NEC-graded employees and no such proof was availed to show that they are NEC-graded employees.

They further submit that they do not fall under the employment council and never made any contributions to the employment council.

Even the respondent did not belong to that employment council,” the journalists argued.

“Furthermore, the claimants argue that the respondent, by consent, submitted itself to the jurisdiction of the labour officer. It participated in conciliation and together drafted the terms of reference to the arbitration.”
Mpofu, according to the workers, had also not raised his objections to the process from the beginning “and so waived its rights to be heard by the designated agent”

“I agree with the claimants’ submission. There is no evidence to prove that the claimants are NEC-graded employees. This is just an allegation which must be proven by one making the allegation.

Furthermore, respondent consented to the jurisdiction of the labour officer and did not challenge it. It participated in the conciliation proceedings and agreed to have the matter referred to arbitration. It was party to crafting the arbitrator’s terms of reference and its letter of July 8 2015 is evidence of such agreement and participation,” Mtimtema said in his ruling.

The workers submitted that they were owed “$239 003 being outstanding wages or salaries for the period September 2014 to May 2015”, to which the arbitrator consented, adding that they also remained bona fide employees of The Zimbabwe Mail “until their contracts are terminated lawfully”.

Following the July 17 Supreme Court judgment, which triggered massive job losses countrywide, Mpofu also tried to use the same provision to terminate the workers’ contracts.

“The submission by respondent that it is now a former employer of the claimants and that the Act does not apply to a former employer is lack of understanding of the law on how contract employment comes to an end. The winding-up of the respondent (The Zimbabwe Mail) does not mean it is immune to claims from claimants,” Mtimtema said.

1 COMMENT

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