Daniel Nemukuyu in Harare and Prosper Ndlovu in Bulawayo—
HUNDREDS of workers have been left jobless in the last four days after employers embraced with speed the Supreme Court judgement delivered on Friday allowing companies to terminate workers’ contracts upon giving three months notice. Workers at Pelhams, Steward Bank, TN Harlequin and Croco Motors became the first victims of the wave of termination of contracts on notice and were being sent home empty-handed.
Pelhams, which was struggling to pay its workers with a total of 18 months’ salary arrears, grabbed the “golden opportunity” and relieved some 110 workers of their duties basing on the Supreme Court ruling.
The furniture firm yesterday closed its outlets in Harare for the day, as the affected workers gathered at the company’s head office along Robert Mugabe Way in protest against the sudden termination of their contracts. The workers expressed anger at the decision, saying they were being sent home empty-handed after serving the company for decades.
Most of the workers at Pelhams received letters dated July 17 (Friday), the date when the landmark judgement in a case involving Zuva Petroleum workers was delivered.
Other workers were served with their letters on Sunday.
One of the letters read:
“We have decided to exercise our right in terms of your contract of employment with us and/or in terms of common law, to terminate your contract of employment with us on notice.
“Our employment contract with you as read with Section 12(4) of the Labour Act, requires us to give you three months notice which we hereby do.
“Your notice shall take effect on the date of delivery of this notice to you or the address given as your domicilum citandi in your contract of employment or to such other address that you notified our Human Resources department in writing.
“We do not expect you to continue coming to work during this notice period. Your monthly salary for the three months notice shall be processed by the Human Resources department whom you should contact at the end of each of your three months’ notice period for the collection of your pay in lieu of notice.”
Steward Bank reportedly fired some 50 workers since Friday, with some letters dated July 20, 2015 (yesterday).
The bank’s chief executive, Lance Shingai Mambondiani, signed the letters and indicated that the workers would get their July salaries plus a combined three months salary as pay for the notice period.
The letters signed by Mambondiani read:
“Accordingly, the amount due to you is as follows:
l Salary for the month of July 2015
l 3 months salary in lieu of notice and
l Cash in lieu of accrued leave, if any”.
Mambondiani indicated that the company would make a once-off payment of all the money by July 31.
TN Harlequin, through its human resources officer, Fungai Nyambirai, on Friday terminated contracts for almost all the workers using the same judgment.
In Bulawayo yesterday, the furniture retailer locked out its 46 workers including top management after serving them with dismissal notices on Friday.
Shocked workers said management sent them notices on termination of employment at their homes on Friday evening, apparently taking a cue from the Supreme Court judgment in Harare that afternoon.
The highest court of appeal in the land ruled – in a judgment that has sent shockwaves throughout the entire labour fraternity – that companies could terminate workers’ contracts anytime without offering them packages by giving them three months notice only.
Disgruntled workers spent the whole of yesterday milling outside TN premises in Belmont industrial area after they were told their fate had been sealed.
“We discharged our duties as usual on Friday and dismissed normally and got shocked to receive envelops at our homes later with letters indicating our contracts had been terminated,” said Jotham Mapfumo, the chairperson of the workers’ committee.
The workers showed The Chronicle their dismissal notices bearing the company’s logo and signed by head human resources, Fungai Nyambirai, dated July 17.
“We’ve decided to exercise our right in terms of your contract of employment with us and or in terms of common law, to terminate your contract of employment with us on notice,” reads a notice given to Mapfumo.
“Our employment contract with you as read in with Section 12 (4) of the Labour Act, requires us to give you three months notice, which we hereby do. Your notice shall take effect on the date of delivery of this notice to you or the address given as your domicilium citandi in your contract of employment…”
Nyambirai could not be reached for comment and a lady who answered his mobile phone said he was away before requesting that calls be made today.
The notice further stated that the workers were not expected to continue coming to work during the notice period. It said the workers’ monthly salary for the three months notice would be processed by the human resources department whom the workers should contact at the end of each of the three months period.
“During that period of notice you may enter into other employment contract on full time, part time or consultancy basis,” read the notice.
Out of desperation, Mapfumo said they had sought the intervention of the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU). “We went to work today and we were told we’re not allowed to enter. Even the general manager (Bulawayo branch) Nkosilathi Ndlovu and human resources Nyanda Mzizi – were also locked out,” said Mapfumo.
“We asked about our monies and we were told headquarters was locked in meetings. We then went to ZFTU to seek their intervention.”
Mapfumo said 46 workers, 36 of them general workers and 10 administrative officers, were affected excluding nine workers who also lost their jobs when the company closed its furniture shop in the city centre last week Tuesday.
He said the notices were served on everyone, causing the “collapse of the Bulawayo branch”.
Speaking to Pardon Mangena, ZFTU regional head, outside the company premises, the workers said they were owed substantial amounts in unpaid salaries.
They queried the closure of the company, which they claimed was running well with a lot of raw materials inside.
TN has been a dominant player in the country’s furniture industry and at some point recruited about 1,000 workers countrywide.
The firm was established by Tawanda Nyambirai, a former chairman of Econet Wireless and partner at Mtetwa and Nyambirai Legal Practitioners. The company’s name (TN) was derived from his initials in early 2000.
Its fortunes took a nose dive in 2013 when demand for furniture dropped – opening a stream of retrenchments.
Croco Motors also sent home some unknown number of workers using the same judgment between Friday and yesterday.
Our Harare Bureau could not ascertain the number of fired workers at Croco by the time of going to print, but sources at the company confirmed their sacking.
The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that employers could terminate workers’ contracts through issuance of a three months notice.
Labour experts described the ruling as a serious threat to job security, as workers may be asked to leave employment empty-handed at any time, while employers feel the ruling will go a long way in lowering employment costs.
The interpretation of the law was made in a landmark judgment in which two former Zuva Petroleum managers, Don Nyamande and Kingstone Donga, were challenging termination of their contracts under the same circumstances.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and four other judges, sitting as a Supreme Court, unanimously agreed that the common law position placing employees and employers on an equal footing was still operational.
As a result of that common law position, employers have the same right to give notice and terminate employment, in as much as a worker can do the same.