Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe is set to lose its fire engines and other properties over $3,1 million allowances owing to its former workers after it emerged that the company’s Labour Court appeal had since been thrown out.
CAAZ deployed firefighters to the Democratic Republic of Congo for operations in the war zone between 1999 and 2004, but did not pay them the promised allowances.
While soldiers and other personnel deployed to the war zone during that time were paid, the 123 civilians did not get their dues, a development that prompted them to seek legal recourse.
On December 23 last year, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku was misled and temporarily interdicted the Sheriff from removing the attached fire engines from CAAZ premises under the impression that CAAZ had a pending appeal at the Labour Court.
The attachment, removal and auctioning of the fire engine was being done in fulfilment of the $3,1 million arbitrary award issued in favour of the 123 ex-workers.
Chief Justice Chidyausiku directed the Registrar of the Supreme Court to set down the Supreme Court challenge against execution of the award for hearing during the first legal term of 2016.
An investigation by lawyers representing the 123 workers, Matsikidze and Mucheche Legal Practitioners, revealed that there was no pending contestation at the Labour Court and that the case cited before the Supreme Court as pending had been thrown out in May last year.
Mr Caleb Mucheche, on behalf of the 123, filed a supplementary notice of opposition at the Supreme Court informing judges of the discovery.
The Labour Court order attached to the supplementary documents and delivered by Justice Rodgers Matsikidze read:
“It is ordered that the appeal filed under case Number “LC/H/704/13” be and is hereby dismissed for failure to file heads of argument in terms of Rule 19(3) (a) of the Labour Court Rules, Statutory Instrument 59 of 2006.
“The respondents shall bear the applicant’s costs.”
In light of the latest discovery, the Supreme Court is most likely to nullify and reverse its earlier decision.
This leaves CAAZ’s property exposed to attachment and auctioning.
In 2004, arbitrator Mr Phillip Bvumbe ruled in favour of the workers.
“It is therefore ordered that the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe should pay the applicants the outstanding allowances within 14 days from the date of this award,” he ruled.
“The outstanding amounts will attract an annual interest rate of 4,3 percent from the 27th of February until fully paid.”
Initially, the 123 workers were claiming $4 811 150 from CAAZ, but the parties later agreed on $3 176 425, which was rubber- stamped by the arbitrator.
In October 1999 at the height of the bloody war between the rebel groups and the National Government of DRC, the firefighters operated in that country until January 2004.
The workers that were seconded to DRC were deployed in groups of nine for periods ranging from one to six months and the rescue and fire fighter services was based at N’djili Airport in Kin- shasa.
The workers argued that between 1999 and April 2001, they were supposed to get $75 per day, but it was unilaterally slashed to $50.
For the period in question, the fire- fighters were paid $50 per day, leaving a balance of $25 per day.
From March 2001 to 2004, the daily allowance rates for the fire fighters was increased from $75 per day to $250, but they still got $50 per day for that period, leaving CAAZ with a balance of $200 per day each for all the fighters who were on the mission.
After they did not get their outstanding allowances, the firefighters took CAAZ to the arbitrator, Mr Bvumbe, who granted the order sought by the workers and ordered the parties to agree on the quantum.
The parties later returned to the arbitrator with an agreed allowance schedule that was confirmed last week.
During their stay in DRC, the workers argued that they were denied rights to decent accommodation, food and medical care.
It was submitted that the firefighters ended up being attacked by diseases associated with consuming dirty water and food as well as other poor health hygiene services.