Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Reporter
Government yesterday held a crisis meeting with stakeholders during which workers proposed that Presidential Powers be invoked to protect them amid reports that over 700 have lost jobs in the last five days following a Supreme Court ruling allowing arbitrary termination of employment contracts.
The ruling, which has shaken the labour industry, was delivered last Friday.
Employers, the major beneficiaries of the ruling, boycotted the meeting held under the auspices of the Tripartite Negotiating Forum which brings together Government, labour and the private sector.
The Supreme Court ruling’s major import was that employers can terminate workers’ contracts after giving them three months’ notice without offering any explanation, or taking the retrenchment route.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira said the meeting sought to review and understand the meaning of the judgment and also discussed the “shocking” numbers of workers dismissed so far as a result of the ruling.
“The worker’s unions have informed us that over 700 people have so far been affected by the Supreme Court ruling and we are all concerned with the turn of events,” said Minister Mupfumira.
She said the TNF was still consulting on the matter and was hoping to come up with a position by Friday.
“We hope we will be able to come up with a win-win scenario and release a statement on Friday.”
Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe director Mr John Mufukari said they could not attend the meeting at short notice.
“We were not able to attend because we are currently having a conference in Kariba and we could not make it at the short notice given by the ministry,” he said.
“The supreme Court has made a ruling and as always, we will abide by the law.”
Minister Mupfumira said the EMCOZ officials had promised to be present at the TNF meeting.
“Employers from the private sector were invited and they promised to send a representative, but they were not represented,” she said.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Mr Japhet Moyo said the TNF technical committee came up with a report with recommendations.
“The report centred on three areas, the judgment, implications and the remedies,” he said.
“On the remedies, two schools of thought came up with one suggesting that the minister should come up with a Statutory Instrument in terms of Section 17 of the Labour Act that protects employees.
“The second school of thought is for the minister to recommend to the President to invoke the Presidential Powers so that we deal with the implications of the judgment. We settled for the second school of thought which deals with people already on the streets.”
In an earlier interview with journalists after touring media outlets under the Zimpapers stable as the Acting Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Minister Mupfumira said employers’ actions were unfair.
She said while employers had a right to decide on their future, it was not proper to suddenly cut off an employee’s contract with no benefits after serving the same company for several years.
“Put yourself in the shoes of somebody who had been working for 20 or 25 years and suddenly without any reason, they are told three months you are off,” said Minister Mupfumira.
“No, we need to look at that and we are going to take appropriate action.”
Minister Mupfumira said Government was intervening in the true spirit of tripatism, which comprise of the employers, employees and Government.
“The ruling had two parties, just the employer and the worker,” she said. “We are now saying we need to sit down as the TNF.”
Minister Mupfumira said a technical team of the TNF also met yesterday morning and deliberated on the same issue.
“We want to come up with a product which is win-win for both the worker and the employee and our role as Government is to be the mediator and make sure that we have a balanced result at the end of the day,” he said.
Last Friday, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and four other judges, sitting as a Supreme Court bench, unanimously agreed that the common law position placing employees and employers on an equal footing was still operational.
This 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 on the same principle.
Following the ruling, a number of companies including Pelhams, Steward Bank, and TN Halequin had laid off their employees by Monday basing on the ruling.
This has since attracted mixed reactions among labour experts, worker’s unions, Government and the generality of the Zimbabwean population, arguing that it poses serious threat to job security.