THE Supreme Court has ordered Zimbabwe’s national flag carrier Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) to reinstate 200 former permanent employees whose contracts were terminated on three months’ notice five years ago.
BY TAURAI MANGUDHLA
Last week’s landmark ruling was unprecedented, and could trigger problems across industries after companies made wholesale job cuts in July 2015 following a court ruling.
The job cuts were effected on three months’ notice. Last week’s ruling came after the troubled carrier had appealed against a labour court ruling to the same effect.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said: “The finding in the draft ruling that the termination of employment was null and void meant that the termination of employment was wrongful and unlawful…the law is settled in this jurisdiction that the remedy for an unlawful termination is reinstatement, alternatively payment of damages. What the court a quo did was to confirm that the termination of employment was indeed unlawful…. For the above reasons, I find that there is no merit in this appeal,” the December 7 judgment read.
It read further: “The appeal be and is hereby dismissed with costs”.
The airline had appealed against a labour court ruling to the same effect, but with amendments to the draft ruling made by a labour officer. According to the Supreme Court Judgment SC180/20, the Labour Court can confirm a draft ruling with or without amendments. AirZim terminated the employees in question’s contracts on July 31, 2015.
The employees collectively lodged a complaint of unfair dismissal, contending termination of their contracts had been carried out contrary to the provisions of section 12(4) of the Labour Act.
AirZim opposed the claims on the basis that some respondents cited in the proceedings were not party to proceedings as they had been re-engaged and one of them had been deceased.
The airline also argued that the amendment to the Labour Act sought to impose a retrospective application of the Act, which it said was unconstitutional.
The labour officer had found that the employees had been unlawfully dismissed, and, therefore, the termination of their contracts were null and void. The officer had ordered AirZim to comply with her ruling within 30 days of receipt of the order. The Labour Court then ordered AirZim to either reinstate the workers within 60 days without loss of pay and benefits or pay damages.
According to the Supreme Court, the finding that the termination of employment was null and void meant that the termination of employment was wrongful and unlawful.
“In my view, there was no substitution of the order of the labour officer, but rather a correction and addition to make the order acceptable in terms of the law.
“At the end of the day, therefore, the order granted by the court a quo was one within the contemplation of the labour officer, the amendment having been made merely to ensure that the confirmed order accorded with the dictates of the law,” the Supreme Court said.
Last week’s ruling throws the airline, currently under administration, into a complete quandary.
The effect of the ruling means it has to decide between re-engaging the workers or pay them while they remain out of its employ.
But AirZim’s finances have been in shambles for many years, with many of its planes grounded due to old age and significant loss of passengers to competitors who have brought in latest jetliners.