By Sij Ncube
HARARE, JULY 20, 2015 – THE Supreme Court ruling which now makes it easier for employers to summarily terminate contracts of workers is an affront to President Robert Mugabe’s much-trumpeted ZimAsset as jitters hit the country’s labour market amid fears more job cuts.
Last week a full Supreme Court bench ruled that employers in Zimbabwe now have a carter blanche to dismiss workers as long as the affected employees are given three months termination-notice, raising concerns some could be sacked without any financial and material rewards irrespective of the number of years served.
Some employers are already reportedly evoking the so-called land mark ruling to axe workers, citing a harsh economic climate coupled with the prevailing liquidity crunch that has seen most firms operating far below their usual operating capacities.
Labour experts point out that most firms listed under critical condition have been unable to lay off staff due to previously stringent labour laws, which, to all intents and purposes, favoured employees than employers.
Mugabe critics have been quick to also point out that the ruling does not augur well for Zanu (PF)’s economic blue-print, ZimAsset hence the government’s engagement with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union and Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) in desperate attempts to reverse the judgement.
ZCTU secretary general, Japhet Moyo, says the government has the power to finalise the issue through the relevant ministry to avoid chaos in the work place.
“It is not now cast in stone. We are engaging the government on the issue and have submitted our recommendations otherwise left as it is there will be blood on the job market with every worker being rendered a temporary worker,” he said.
The Zanu (PF) administration is also understood to be wary of the ruling as under ZimAsset, it promised to create more than 2,2 million jobs by 2018 a feat analysts agree is too ambitious even before the latest labour blow posed by the Supreme Court ruling.
While critics are adamant ZimAsset only exists on paper, and nothing it promised can materialize, or used as a benchmark for anything in Zimbabwe at present or as an economic blue-print, the ruling nonetheless affects Zanu PF grand plan to create jobs.
Maxwell Saungweme, a development analyst, said given the volatility of the economy, it is important that employers have the flexibility to hire or let off resources, labour being one of the key resources, adding there is no economic sense in keeping unneeded resources, otherwise operations would not viable.
“But on a moral point of view, it insensitive to fire people, but if businesses are to be viable, they should be able to hire and fire according to their cost structures and productivity. While this can be a controversial position morally and in the eyes of labour activists, the reality is there is no point in keeping people you don’t need. This is the problem why civil servants salaries today are over 75% of the government’s budget, the highest in the region, and taxpayers keep funding a bloated and inefficient civil service.
“Business just like government should only hire the staff they need. The government needs to focus on growing the cake and creating a conducive environment for investment, and then you will have more industries opening up and employing people than trying to let the few existing industries being stuck with redundant labour force,” he said.
Constitutional law expert, Alec Magaisa, said the judgment represents a mortal danger to the rights of employees and makes an employee in independent Zimbabwe now worse off in terms of rights than the employee in colonial Rhodesia.
“If the labour laws were too much in favour of the employee and stifled business, then this judgment has veered in the opposite direction, leaving the employee exposed to the whims of the bosses,” said Magaisa.
But there is consensus labour body representatives have been literally caught with their pants down as the ruling leaves workers with few or no options.
Rashweat Mukundu, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, challenged trade unions to go back to the drawing board in defending workers’ rights.
“What the labour unions and the government need is to strengthen social security that include NSSA as well as that unions negotiate better working conditions and pension and related incidental savings and pay-outs that cushion workers in the event of either dismissal, injury or death,” said Mukundu.