By Sij Ncube
HARARE, JULY 28, 2015 – ZIMBABWE’S labour sector is now firmly an employers’ market as loud choruses increase for President Robert Mugabe to evoke his Presidential Powers to torpedo Supreme Court rulings which now make it easier for employers to sack employees even without any benefits.
Sources in the employment sector claim Mugabe’s administration, which is battling to lure direct foreign investment in order to create jobs, is equally under immense pressure from international investors, to allow the economy to self-correct.
This entails allowing employers to dictate employment terms as Zimbabwe is presently deemed less attractive investment destination due to stringent labour laws and high production costs, particular salaries and other perks.
The two latest Supreme Court land-mark rulings, to all intents and purposes, render the employees powerless to negotiate exit packages.
Firstly it was Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku who announced a fortnight ago that employers’ are within their rights to terminate employees’ contracts without pay provided the employer gave at least three months notices.
However, the development has left an estimated 10 000 people jobless within 14-days of the ruling, according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
What has shocked workers is that even before the ink has dried on Chidyausiku ruling, the Supreme Court on Monday passed another ruling stating that allowances such as housing, transport and schools fees are not a right for employees, further creating alarm and despondence among the workforce.
Labour experts who spoke to Radio VOP Tuesday referred to an article which appeared in the state-run newspaper, The Herald, on Saturday penned by columnist Nathaniel Manheru, thought to be Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba, which intimated that the Zanu PF leader might not intervene on behalf of workers.
The columnist pointed the ZCTU and the MDC-T had long accused Mugabe of abusing the Presidential Powers.
“For a very long time, the ZCTU, in cohorts with the MDC-T and the civil society activists, agitated against Presidential Powers. These powers were draconian and unwelcome in a democratic society, they chaffed all in unison,” wrote Manheru.
“Today the same ZCTU calls for the use of those very powers they condemned, all in defence of the workers? Can a dirty power, a dirty stature, create righteousness? And when both the MDC-T and ZCTU ask President Mugabe to defence workers interests, what should be the reason for the existence of the MDC-T/ZCTU alliance now and in future?”
But analysts say the second Supreme Court ruling denying workers allowances confirms the employment sector is now an employers’ market in which employees have little or say, predicting looming massive job cuts.
Trained lawyer and respected journalist Brian Hungwe said the two Supreme Court rulings confirm “what the law is as opposed to what the law ought to be.”
“The law had not yet been tested at this level, but the laws largely favour the interests of workers and promote justice at the work place,” said Hungwe but was quick to add, “But these controversial sections are however setbacks that can be looked at again.”
Bhekithemba Mhlanga, a journalist turned economist-cum lawyer based in the United Kingdom, agreed it is now an employers’ market in Zimbabwe, pointing out that productivity is very low both in the private and public sectors but operational costs remain very high.
“With 70% unemployment that means in every 10 people 3 are at work and seven are not. So if the three are a cost and not being productive one simply gets rids of them and tries the next lot at a lower cost within the minimum rules of what the law will allow,” said Mhlanga, adding that companies should be allowed some flexibility in managing costs and productivity.
“When productivity goes up output improves and so do wages. What also improves is the employment absorption rate – the pace at which the economy creates it.”
Vivid Gwede, an information officer with Zimbabwe Human Rights Association, described the Supreme Court rulings as a clear violation of the rights of workers to stable, fairness and dignified employment.
“Where the employee enters into a contract that clearly favours the employer, the employee’s rights are already on the guillotine. In short, the pronouncement has exposed the state as greatly failing in its role as the balancing actor in the well-known struggle between the employers and employees in labour relations,” said Gwede.
Bulawayo-based success coach and motivational speaker Jonah Moyo, believes further clarification is needed on the instruments which have influenced the Supreme Court rulings.
“The employee is now at the mercy of the employer who now finds it easy to chuck out more people since there is no money to pay the employees,” said Moyo.
But labour expert Ndumiso Sibanda cautioned employers against hastily axing employees citing the Supreme Court ruling, advising them to wait for the finalisation of an appeal at the Constitutional Court instituted by the two affected Zuva Petroleum employees