The move, according to affected workers, will see most workers earning less than US$50 a month.
The company has blamed the move to the influx of cheap imports which have flooded the market.
The company’s operation manager for the Bulawayo branch, Brain Magwaza last week wrote a letter to the workers advising them of the company’s move to place them on a two week monthly salary.
“The prevailing harsh economic environment has resulted in continued depressed business performance necessitating the company to take a number of cost reduction measures including adopting reduced working weeks,” reads part of the letter.
The letter, which is in Radio VOP’s possession, said that the cost cutting measures will be taken in line with provisions of the Labour Relations Act.
But the workers alleged that they were forced to sign the letter without being given an opportunity to seek advice from their lawyers.
“The company’s Human Resources Executive, Julian Mhlanga, just delivered the letters to us and asked us to sign without giving us ample time to discuss the contents of the letter and consult our lawyers. It’s better for the company to give us retrenchment packages than to place us on a two week monthly shift,” said one worker.
Under the new working arrangement, most workers will earn less than US$50 after pension and other deductions. Currently the majority of the workers at the company earn a monthly salary of between US$140 and US$170.
The firm’s Mutare factory is also reported to have stopped producing tinned foods after most of the major farms which used to supply the company with raw materials in the eastern highlands were invaded by war veterans and Zanu (PF) supporters during the height of the land invasions in 2000.
Marketing Director for Cairns Foods, Francis Dube, told Radio VOP when asked to comment that employees at the Bulawayo factory had been put on a 50 ‘per cent’ salary until a solution was found.
“We can confirm that it is our intention to resolve the challenges and thereafter to return to normal levels of operation,” he said.
He said the Bulawayo Branch of Cairns Foods served two main purposes. It was the southern region warehousing and distribution centre for all products manufactured and marketed by the company irrespective of where the products are manufactured. Secondly it was the manufacturing site for the company’s pasta products.
Dube said the role of the branch as a warehousing and distribution centre remained unchanged in spite of the reduction sales volumes over the last 18 months.
“There have, therefore been no changes to the circumstances or working conditions of staff employed in the warehouse or distribution roles,” said Dube. “On the other hand the manufacturing operation at the site has been significantly undermined by the extensive distribution and availability to the consumer of cheap pasta products imported at zero duty from as far afield as Egypt and the Middle East. It has therefore become extremely difficult for us to sell the product we manufacture as it is significantly higher-priced than the imported products.”
“The viability of our operation has thus been severely threatened for some time and, in this period the company has continued to employ its workforce. We have now reached a position when we must urgently work out ways to return to viability. In addition to a critical examination of all internal and external factors, we are also engaging authorities on the question of tariffs.”