Employers, labour on collision course

Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter
Several companies have abandoned formal retrenchment procedures, opting instead to simply terminate the contracts of employment on notice. This is despite such actions being challenged at the Supreme Court.

The employers are reportedly taking a cue from a contested Labour Court judgment delivered against two Zuva Petroleum managers last year which gave the company the nod to terminate their contracts without any disciplinary hearing or the involvement of a retrenchment authority.

The duo was given three months’ salary each as a severance package.

The two employees, Don Nyamande and Kingstone Donga, have since challenged at the Supreme Court both the ruling and provisions of the Labour Act which the Labour Court relied on to make its ruling.

The Supreme Court heard the managers’ case three months ago and reserved judgment.

Investigations by The Herald have revealed that Unifreight Limited laid off at least 100 employees using the same law after it was challenged at the Supreme Court, while China-Africa Corporation terminated the contracts for 20 of its workers.

The Horticultural Promotion Council of Zimbabwe also got rid of eight workers using the same modus operandi.

All the affected workers have instructed their lawyers to challenge the decision.

While the Supreme Court is still to rule on the case, hundreds of workers have had their contracts terminated on notice, a development that is likely to open a floodgate of lawsuits in the event that the court rules otherwise.

In terminating the contracts, the companies base their decisions on Section 12(4) of the Labour Act which legitimises termination of employment by merely giving a notice and three months’ salary to an employee.

The Section reads: “Except where a longer period of notice has been provided under a contract of employment or in any relevant enactment, and subject to subsections (5), (6) and (7), notice of termination of the contract of employment to be given by either party shall be:

a) Three months in the case of a contract without limit of time or a contract for a period of two years or more;

b) Two months in the case of a contract for a period of one year or more but less than two years;

c) One month in the case of a contract for a period of six months or more but less one year;

d) Two weeks in the case of a contract for a period of three months or more but less than six months;

e) One day in the case of a contract for a period of less than three months or in the case of casual work or seasonal work.”

Legal experts lambasted the employers involved in the termination of contracts on notice, saying they should wait for the outcome of the court challenge.

Labour lawyer Mr Albert Chambati said such employers risked paying damages to the workers if the court ruled the practice to be unlawful.

“It would be wise for the companies to wait for the court’s determination before taking any action,” he said. “In the event that the Supreme Court rules otherwise, the companies will have to pay damages and it will open a floodgate of lawsuits.”

Professor Lovemore Madhuku said the companies involved were undermining the authority of the court and that their actions could be interpreted as an attempt to influence the court to rule in their favour.

“The challenge is a very important matter and the Supreme Court is still deliberating on it,” he said.

“It is only fair for the employers to stop terminating contracts and wait for the court’s decision.

“Continuing to hire and fire is tantamount to undermining the authority of the court. Such developments may be viewed as a way of influencing the court to rule in the employers’ favour.”