Elita Chikwati Senior Reporter
Workers reacted angrily to a ruling by the Supreme Court yesterday whose import is that employers can now terminate workers’ contracts after giving them three months notice without offering any explanation.
While the workers criticised the ruling, employers said it brought fairness to both sides as employees already had the right to give the three months notice on termination of a contract.
The workers said the judges took a “narrow” view of the Labour Act and their decision was unfair as it “killed” labour activism and would result in the victimisation of workers.
“To us its a disaster in that the judgement is removing negotiations on retrenchments,” said Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary general Mr Japhet Moyo. “For example, if I am an employer and I want to restructure, why should I engage workers and pay them a package?”
“It’s a disaster because labour activists can be targeted. The employer can decide to remove all those who lead workers unions.”
Mr Moyo said the ruling was going to haunt Government as workers would be laid off en-masse. “While the (Labour) Act might have that loophole, the judges took a narrow view because they were supposed to read it with other sections on retrenchment,” he said.
“Government needs to look at tightening the Act to make sure there is no willy-nilly termination of contracts.”
Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions secretary general Mr Kennias Shamuyarira said there was need for Government to organise an urgent conference with labour and employees to move the economy forward. He said the judiciary was unfair on workers.
“These are predatory capitalists ruining the economy,” Mr Shamuyarira said.
“They are overriding President Mugabe’s vision and diverting sound policies on the socialist-Marxist vision which we subscribe to as labour centres.
“Our only hope is that we sit down for an emergency economic summit chaired by President Mugabe and including labour and employers.”
But Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe director Mr John Mufukari said the ruling brought natural justice to the labour market.
“This is a very level-headed judgement and we applaud the Appeal Court for having the courage to interpret the law without looking over their shoulders to see who is watching or who is not watching,” he said. “You cannot grow an economy by making it impossible to shed labour when necessary because you will go into liquidation.”
Mr Mufukari said it was unfortunate that the ruling might soon be of no effect since the Labour Amendment Act, which is yet to be passed, will take away the right for the employers to give three months notice of termination of contract.
Black Business Forum public relations executive Mr William Chaitezvi said the move was positive, although employers should not abuse it by firing workers for no reason. Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce chief executive Mr Takunda Mugaga said labour laws had been hanging as there were delays by the legislature to align them. He said the Supreme Court judgement would result in the attraction of investors.
“Labour is expensive in Zimbabwe compared to other countries in the region,” he said.
“The Supreme Court judgement can appear as unfair, but this is the way to go.
“In Zimbabwe, if a company wanted to retrench workers, the compensation was too high. Now there is flexibility of labour.”