Ruling triggers fierce job losses •Companies fire hundreds since Friday •Urgent Govt intervention sought

People walk past a Pelhams branch with closed roller shutters to prevent burglary after the furnisher firm sent most of its workers packing following a Supreme Court ruling allowing firms to terminate workers contracts on three months’ notice. — (Picture by Beauty Muchakazi)

People walk past a Pelhams branch with closed roller shutters to prevent burglary after the furnisher firm sent most of its workers packing following a Supreme Court ruling allowing firms to terminate workers contracts on three months’ notice. — (Picture by Beauty Muchakazi)

Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter—
Hundreds of workers have been left jobless in the last four days after employers embraced with speed the Supreme Court judgment delivered last Friday allowing companies to terminate workers’ contracts upon giving three months notice. Workers at Pelhams, Steward Bank, TN Harlequin and Croco Motors became the first victims of the wave of termination of contracts on notice and were being sent home empty-handed.

Pelhams, which was struggling to pay its workers with a total of 18 months’ salary arrears, grabbed the “golden opportunity” and relieved 110 workers of their duties basing on the Supreme Court ruling.

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The furniture firm yesterday closed its outlets in Harare for the day, as affected workers gathered at the company’s head office along Robert Mugabe Road in protest against the sudden termination of their contracts.

The workers expressed anger at the decision, saying they were being sent home empty-handed after serving the company for decades.

Most of the workers at Pelhams received letters dated July 17 (last Friday), the date when the landmark judgment in a case involving Zuva Petroleum workers was delivered.

Other workers were served with their letters on Sunday.

One of the letters read:
“We have decided to exercise our right in terms of your contract of employment with us and/or in terms of common law, to terminate your contract of employment with us on notice.

“Our employment contract with you as read with Section 12(4) of the Labour Act, requires us to give you three months notice which we hereby do. Your notice shall take effect on the date of delivery of this notice to you or the address given as your domicilum citandi in your contract of employment or to such other address that you notified our Human Resources department in writing.

“We do not expect you to continue coming to work during this notice period. Your monthly salary for the three months notice shall be processed by the Human Resources department whom you should contact at the end of each of your three months’ notice period for the collection of your pay in lieu of notice.”

Steward Bank has reportedly fired 50 workers since Friday, with some letters dated July 20 2015 (yesterday).

The bank’s chief executive Dr Lance Shingai Mambondiani signed the letters and indicated that the workers will get their July salaries plus a combined three months salary as pay for the notice period.

The letters signed by Dr Mambondiani read:

“Accordingly, the amount due to you is as follows:

  • Salary for the month of July 2015
  • 3 months salary in lieu of notice and
  • Cash in lieu of accrued leave, if any”.

Dr Mambondiani indicated that the company will make a once-off payment of all the money by July 31.

TN Harlequin, through its human resources officer Mr Fungai Nyambirai, on Friday terminated contracts for almost all the workers using the same judgment.

Mr Nyambirai stated in some of the letters that payment of the three months notice pay will be done at the end of each of the three months.

“Your salary for the three months notice shall be processed by the human resources department whom you shall contact at the end of each of your three months notice period for the collection of your pay in lieu of notice,” he said in the letters addressed to each of the affected workers.

Croco Motors also sent home some unknown number of workers using the same judgement between Friday and yesterday.

The Herald could not ascertain the number of fired workers at Croco by the time of going to print, but sources at the company confirmed their sacking.

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that employers could terminate workers’ contracts through issuance of a three months notice.

Labour experts described the ruling as a serious threat to job security, as workers may be asked to leave employment empty-handed at any time, while employers feel the ruling will go a long way in lowering employment costs.

The interpretation of the law was made in a landmark judgement in which two former Zuva Petroleum managers, Don Nyamande and Kingstone Donga, were challenging termination of their contracts under the same circumstances.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and four other judges, sitting as a Supreme Court, unanimously agreed that the common law position placing employees and employers on an equal footing was still operational.

As a result of that common law position, employers have the same right to give notice and terminate employment, in as much as a worker can do the same.

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