Tawanda Mangoma in Chiredzi
More than 16 000 Tongaat Hullet Zimbabwe employees have received one week’s salary for December after the firm refused to pay for the three weeks during which they were on strike.
Zimbabwe Sugar Milling Industry Workers Union president Mr Freedom Madungwe said in an interview yesterday that the company resolved to evoke a section of the Labour Act, which gives it the power not to pay an employee who does not turn up for work, even during a strike.
Mr Madungwe said some employees who owed the company money received nothing in their bank accounts.
“It’s very sad that the company decided not to pay us for the days which we were on strike,” he said. “They used the Labour Act which states that an employer has the power not to pay an employee even if he did not come to work while participating in a sanctioned strike.”
Mr Madungwe said they had since instructed their lawyers, Mangwana and Partners, to file an application at the Constitutional Court challenging the section.
“This move has affected nearly all workers who only exercised their rights by engaging in a peaceful and sanctioned strike,” said Mr Madungwe.
Efforts to get a comment from Tongaat Hullet Zimbabwe corporate affairs and communications manager Ms Adelaide Chikunguru were fruitless as she did not respond to questions sent to her.
One of the workers Mr Simbarashe Nyemba said they had fallen victim to the effects of a strike which they never subscribed to.
“Not all workers wanted this strike, some were coming to work while others were on strike,” he said. “The problem came when the company gates were locked by some workers on the strike, forcing out of the mills those who wanted to work.”
Section 108, Sub-section 4 of the Labour Act reads, “An employer is not obliged to remunerate an employee for services that the employee does not render during the lawful collective action, except where the employee’s remuneration includes payment in kind by way of accommodation, the provision of food and other basic amenities of life, in which event the employer shall not discontinue such payment in kind unless the employee declines such remuneration.”
The company reportedly incurred a loss during the three week strike as sugar stocks dwindled in retail shops, which resulted in a price rise.
A fortnight ago, the workers tried to embark on yet another strike in protest of the $10 increment which was agreed last year, saying they wanted a rise from $180 to $300.
The High Court ruled the strike unlawful.