Ministry Stops Airzim Retrenchment

HARARE – The Labour Ministry has stopped the planned retrenchment of 500 workers by troubled Air Zimbabwe.

The loss-making airline had announced this week that it planned to go ahead with the downsizing exercise in order to be viable.

Rogers Matsikidze of Matsikidze and Mucheche Legal practioners,  representing the workers said: “The Labour Court has ruled in favour of the workers and the Ministry of Labour ordered the planned retrenchment should not go ahead.”

The lawyer said several factors had been taken into account by the Labour Court in setting aside the planned retrenchment including depriving the workers and their families a livelihood.

Zimbabwe national carrier applied to the Retrenchment Board in the Ministry of Labour to grant it the permission to lay off 500 workers in a, in a bid to prevent the embattled airline from going under.

“We have no option other but to right-size or else we are dead,” Air Zimbabwe chief executive Peter Chikumba said on Tuesday.

Nearly a decade of economic and political crisis has seen annual passenger numbers for the struggling airline drop from a peak of one million in 1996 to just 300 000 now, the company said.

The state-owned airline formed in 1980 after the country’s independence has been beset by a string of financial problems.

The company currently has a US$30 million debt, and has asked the government to sell its stake in the airline in a bid to raise desperately needed cash from private investors.

Last year at the height of the country’s hyperinflation, which officially hit 231 million percent but was believed many times higher, Air Zimbabwe was forced to sell tickets in the virtually worthless local currency.

That left the airline struggling to pay its membership fees with the airline regulation body, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), while it couldn’t pay landing fees at London’s Gatwick Airport.

Air Zimbabwe’s fortunes nosedived so dramatically that one flight in 2005 arrived from Dubai carrying a single passenger.

The route has since been closed, along with other ill-advised destinations such as Kinshasa and Luanda, while the airline has concentrated on busy routes to South Africa, Britain and Zambia.

The company has also been hit hard by the national brain drain as experienced personnel such as engineers and pilots are poached by rival carriers in the region and Europe.