Employers seek salary hike reversals: Industry locked in negotiations

Wages for some workers in the agricultural industry have been marginally increased

Wages for some workers in the agricultural industry have been marginally increased

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EMPLOYERS in the food and beverages industry have given notice to appeal against an arbitral award of a 6 percent salary hike for workers in the sector, raising the spectre that this year’s wage negotiations across the industry will be long and protracted.

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The award, which was made just before the Christmas break by co-arbitrators Mr Munyaradzi Gwisai and retired High Court judge Justice Moses Chinhengo, indicated that the increment is supposed to be backdated to January 2014.

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It has since emerged that employers in the brewing and distilling sector will appeal the ruling, which was a result of voluntary arbitration.

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An impasse between employers and employees in the milling industry has also been referred for voluntary arbitration, with the former claiming that the “operating environment and the continuing biting liquidity crunch” makes it impossible for them to afford an increment.

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Employees are, however, irked by their employer’s failure to disclose their cashflows in line with the dictates of Section 76 of the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01), which, in essence, makes it mandatory for any party to the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement who claims financial incapacity as a ground for his inability to agree to any terms or conditions, or to any terms or conditions thereof, to make full disclosure of his financial position, duly supported by all relevant accounting papers and documents.

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United Food and Allied Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Ufawuz) general secretary Mr Adoniah Mutero last week accused the employers of trying to frustrate employees who have had to contend with low wages for a long time.

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“Honourable Gwisai and Honourable (Lawrence) Gabilo attempted the matter but failed to agree and in turn referred the matter to the third arbitrator, Honourable Joel Mambara, who awarded a 5 percent on basic (pay), increased transport allowances by US from US and the housing from US to US.

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“However, the employers are appealing against the award. We are seeing this as just but a delaying tactic meant to frustrate loyal and hard workers who have endured slave-like wages with no meaningful increments over the years.

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“They were arguing that workers must not withdraw their labour but follow the due process of dispute settlement.

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“Of note they will always refer to the ground rules, which require parties to resolve the matter through arbitration in the event of a deadlock, but here we are, the results of a voluntary arbitration are out and they are reneging on their commitment to abide by the ground rules,” said Mr Mutero.

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Ufawuz represents workers in a number of sectors including milling, meat, fish processing, breweries as well as distilling, baking, sweets and confectioneries.

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Grain Millers’ Association of Zimbabwe chairman Mr Tafadzwa Musarara could not be reached for comment last week as his mobile phones were not reachable.

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The milling industry, which is thought to have about 11 000 employees, had agreed to award employees a 4,8 percent salary increment in the 2014 collective bargaining agreement, but the increment was not effected as millers cited Government’s directive to peg the maize producer price at US0 per tonne.

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In September last year, Ufawuz had planned a crippling strike to force employers to increase salaries but was blocked at the last minute by the director of industrial relations in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Mr Clemence Vusani, who urged the parties to find an amicable solution to the crisis.

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But it is not only the food and milling industry where employers and employees are engaging to thrash out the wage structure for the year.

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Banks engage

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The Zimbabwe Banks and Allied Workers’ Union (Zibawu) last week said it will be meeting with employers on Tuesday with expectations that well-performing banks will award increments.

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However, the union’s assistant general secretary, Mr Shepherd Ngandu, noted that negotiations for 2013 and 2014 are still outstanding.

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“But I must emphasise that our negotiations for 2013 and 2014 are still outstanding. We were awarded a 10 percent increment in 2012 and employers appealed the ruling and the matter is now at the Supreme Court and this case is now stalling the 2014 and 2015 negotiations,” he said.

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In September, scores of bank workers picketed Stanbic Bank headquarters in Harare to press management to pay workers a 10 percent salary increase.

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The workers were also demanding 100 percent medical aid cover against the 70 percent offered by the bank.

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Low expectations for timber and coffee workers

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There are, however, mixed expectations for workers in the agricultural sector.

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The industry, which has been divided into six segments — general agriculture, horticulture, agro-industry, timber, tea and coffee and kapenta — is presently struggling to sustain salary and wage increases due to poor yields and low prices for commodities, especially tobacco and cotton.

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Last week, General Agricultural Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwuz) secretary-general Mr Gift Motsi said only four segments have acceded to employee demands for wage increases.

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He could not readily avail the new wage structures.

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The salaries will be reviewed as the year progresses.

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Only the timber and tea and coffee sectors are yet to increase their wages.

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On-going discussions in energy

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Negotiations in the energy sector began on January 15 and are still on-going.

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The Zimbabwe Energy Workers’ Union (Zewu) general secretary, Mr Martin Chikuni, said they will be engaging some companies in February.

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Mr Chikuni said some employers are still consulting the Ministry of Energy and Power Development and will revert to the National Employment Council (NEC) before the end of January.

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In July last year, Zesa awarded its employees a 4 percent salary increment to pre-empt potential labour unrest. However, there are reports that the company might accumulate US0 million in salary arrears emanating from a 2012 collective bargaining salary increment it declined to honour and is contesting in the High Court.

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There were also fears that the power utility could pay over US million in tax liabilities arising from the 2012 labour dispute if the ruling does not go in their favour.

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