FORTY-FIVE Nestlé retrenchees have lodged an application at the Retrenchment Board challenging their departure, claiming that the accepted terms between them and the company were signed under duress.
BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA
The application was made last week by the former workers’ lawyer Tariro Paul Machiridza of Machiridza Commercial Law Chambers.
Feedback from the Retrenchment Board is expected as early as next week.
“Retrenchment issues are only handled by the court if there is no agreement on the determination of the Retrenchment Board. We sent in the papers sometime last week, so I think they take about seven days or so to respond. The seven days will expire early next week. Meanwhile, we will be making follow-ups to see what has transpired,” Machiridza told NewsDay yesterday.
The filing of this application came as the former employees were angered by what they said was Nestlé Zimbabwe’s framing the story as if the workers themselves were the ones who had approached the company for voluntary retrenchment which they later agreed to.
But Ben Ndiaye south cluster manager for Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi insisted the voluntary retrenchment exercise was not under duress, adding that the rate of staff retention at Nestlé was good.
“… in May of this year we offered voluntary departure to our people. There were 45 people who came and opted for voluntary departure and we accepted them. So based on some of the requests of the people, we proposed voluntary departure,” Ndiaye said yesterday.
However, investigations done by NewsDay showed that on May 29, Ndiaye together with his human resources manager Memory Ngulube held a staff address with employees stating that the company was struggling to cope with growing inflation and general economic downturn.
During the address, which was confirmed by the retrenched employees, Ndiaye said the company needed to sustain the long-term health of the business and needed to right size the company.
As such, the employees were offered voluntary retrenchment and early retirement or receive compulsory retrenchment packages.
Under voluntary early retirement, anyone who had served more than a year could take this option, but for those who served 55 years and above, they were already eligible for voluntary early retirement packages.
All staffers were offered unpaid leave balance, holiday bonus, prorated bonuses (bonuses for time served this year), three months’ notice pay (funeral contribution, housing and transport/petrol allowance were applicable, medical cover) and three weeks basic salary for every year served.
Further, medical benefits were offered for 12 months at the end of retrenchment notice period which was from June to August. Pension benefits would also apply.
After the announcement, Ngulube invited employees to come and negotiate terms individually to decide on one of these packages and they were given four days to do so.
If the workers refused to take either voluntary retrenchments or early retirements, some of the workers would lose jobs under compulsory retrenchments where they identified 35 roles and positions that would be impacted with benefits paid according to the law.
Under Labour Law, a retrenched individual is entitled to a package of two weeks’ salary for every year served.
In one of the signed application forms for retrenchment, the benefits of unpaid leave balance, holiday bonuses, prorated bonuses, three months’ notice pay, one additional week of basic salary for years served (on top of the stipulated two weeks) and medical benefits were included.
A former employee said despite “volunteering” they had to negotiate with the company that their position had been affected before agreeing and negotiating for the exit package.
Despite Nestlé saying they needed to cut costs, the company employed several expatriate employees in managerial posts in recent months. These are Harraj Saraon (finance manager), Mark Francisco (sales manager), Samantha Ganethige (factory manager), Nancy Mwangola (marketing manager) and Guillome d’ Techterman (factory engineer) among others.
Combined, these managers, according to one of the workers, earn more than the 45 retrenched workers collectively.
The workers who lost their jobs were reportedly earning between $500 and $600, while others earned slightly more. The managers, on the other hand, were allegedly receiving between $15 000 and $20 000.
Ndiaye refused to comment on the matter.
Further, Nestlé Zimbabwe employed graduate trainees and contract workers who generally take in lower pay than permanent workers.
According to legal experts, Labour Amendment Act No. 5 of 2015 under section 12 (4a) only allows employees to be terminated under four scenarios.
These were termination in terms of an employment code or in the absence of an employment code, in terms of the model code made under section 101(9), the employer and employee mutually agree in writing to the termination of the contract, the employee was engaged for a period of fixed duration or for the performance of some specific service and lastly pursuant to retrenchment, in accordance with section 12c of the labour law.
Machiridza has already been corresponding with Nestlé Zimbabwe lawyers, Dube Manikai and Hwacha Commercial Law Chambers where they dismissed this application.
Nestlé lawyers argued that the retrenched workers and Nestlé Zimbabwe already approached the Retrenchment Board together which later signed off on the retrenchments.
However, Machiridza said that the workers still had a case as the former employees were not supposed to be coerced into signing the retrenchment applications.
He said if everything was above board the 45 retrenched employees would not have engaged a lawyer.