GMB ex-employees turn on their lawyer

By Farai Matiashe

Former Grain Marketing Board (GMB) workers are at loggerheads with the lawyer who represented them after they were sacked on three months’ notice in 2015 following the landmark Supreme Court ruling.

The workers are accusing lawyer Munyaradzi Gwisai of professional misconduct after he reportedly hid court papers of a ruling that favoured them in a case against the parastatal in July 2016.

Documents in possession of NewsDay showed that the GMB sacked Stephen Machaya and 476 others, who were working in various depots, among them Mutoko, Mt Darwin and Guruve.

The former employees had sought the legal services of Gwisai of Munyaradzi Gwisai and Partners Legal Practitioners to recover outstanding salaries, pension, housing, funeral and medical aid contributions.

One of the former GMB employees, who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity, accused Gwisai of partnering with the parastatal’s lawyers to hide the court papers from them.

“After the Zuva judgment, we were given three months’ notices. We then challenged the dismissal and we won, but I believe Gwisai and GMB lawyers hid the judgment from us,” he said.

The former employee said it was after 16 months when both lawyers came up with the memorandum of agreement for mutual separation.

“We are demanding that GMB must pay us from November 2015 up to March 31, 2017. We cannot be prejudiced because lawyers went to bed with GMB in order to run away from our favourable July 2016 ruling. The dismissal was declared unlawful,” he said.

“Up to now, GMB has not paid us even what was agreed on in the agreement for mutual separation. We did not even get a cent.”

Papers from the labour officer showed that GMB was ordered to pay the claimants a minimum retrenchment package of one month’s salary for every two years worked as compensation for loss of employment.

The payment was supposed to be effected in six months.

But when six months passed without any action from GMB, it is alleged that Gwisai did not follow up on the matter despite having been paid by his clients.

Another former employee told NewsDay that he was suspecting GMB wanted to make them suffer because they had demonstrated against the parastatal’s board of directors and senior managers.

But Gwisai told NewsDay that he represented the former employees well and insisted they were paid in terms of the agreement for mutual separation.

“The employer paid these employees in terms of the agreement. We did a great job for them. We managed to push the employer to pay them. The ruling you are talking about is actually a draft ruling, which is issued by the Labour Officer in terms of section 93 subsection 5 of Labour Act. It is supposed to be confirmed by the Labour Court,” he said.

“Within a month, we had reminded the legal officer to do the application, so they cannot say we did not follow up. After the mutual separation agreement, we could not follow the matter to the Labour Court because they had already been paid.”

Gwisai said they could not update on the development of the case to each and every claimant because they were many, but could only talk and issue documents to their representatives.

“The (claimants) were over 400. We gave (updates on the case to) their representatives, they were the ones who were coming to court. If their representatives did not give them (the information), it is not my problem,” he said.

Gwisai said the employees had not be paid from November 2015 to March 2016 the day an agreement for mutual separation was signed because the Labour Act had ruled that the sacking of employees with a three months’ notice was lawful, if the employees were paid.

“The Labour Amendment Act (No 5) of 2015 was confirmed by the Constitutional Court on March 28, 2018 in a case of Greatermans Stores and Anor v/s Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare,” he said.

GMB human resources manager Aquinata Makuvise requested questions to be sent to the public relations department, but these had not been responded to at the time of going to print last night.

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