Sunday, March 20, 2016

Zimbabwe Government Cash for Fired Workers
Sunday Mail

The 10 000-plus employees dismissed on notice in 2015 will soon get business start-up loans from the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Corporation.

The loans, The Sunday Mail has established, were facilitated by the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Ministry and will be underwritten by the National Social Security Authority.

Though the figures could not be determined by yesterday, authorities are compiling retrenchees’ data and will invite loan beneficiaries in coming weeks.

The eligibility criteria will also be outlined shortly in an initiative similar to one introduced in 2011 when loans of between US$500 and US$5 000 were disbursed over a year at 10 percent interest.

Smedco is a Government-owned finance institution that promotes development of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and co-operatives.

Responding to our inquiries, Labour Minister Prisca Mupfumira said: “Pursuant to the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Zuva Petroleum versus Nyamande and another, the ministry carried out a snap survey of contracts of employment that were terminated on notice and the figure is about 10 000. Initiatives are underway for some retrenchees to access a loan facilitated by Nssa through Smedco.”

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Mr Japhet Moyo said Government’s loan facility was commendable and should be protected from corporate abuse. “Our fear is that the people who will benefit from the facility are the chief executives who have collateral and not the ordinary worker. Many workers may not benefit as well because he/she might not have warranties for this service by the Government like houses or assets.

“Certainly, we dispute that provision seeing that not many ordinary workers will get loans given the stringent conditions associated with most of our banks.” On July 17, 2015, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and four Supreme Court justices – in a case in which two former Zuva Petroleum managers were challenging termination of their contracts by notice – ruled that the common law position placing employees and employers at par was operational.

This meant inasmuch as workers could opt out of their contracts by giving a three-month notice period, comapnies too could terminate contracts by that same route.

This saw more than 10 000 people – according to the Labour Ministry – losing their jobs in a matter of months, prompting Government to urgently sponsor legislation to balance the interests of employers and employees, and providing for at least two-weeks’ salary to be paid out for every year of service.

Minister Mupfumira also told The Sunday Mail that the Tripartite Negotiating Forum – which brings together Government, labour and employers – was hammering out further Labour Act amendments to clarify termination of contracts on notice.

An advisory committee will table its findings on key refinement areas before March 31.

The minister said TNF principals held their first meeting in January 2016 to renew commitment to the forum’s founding principles under the Kadoma Declaration, which established a social contract between the parties.

The parties, she said, agreed on a roadmap towards refining the Labour Act as guided by Government’s 10-Point Plan, the Kadoma Declaration, the Constitution and International Labour Organisation conventions.

“At that meeting, TNF leaders – comprising Government, Business and Labour – mandated a Tripartite Advisory Committee to identify areas for inclusion in the Labour Amendment Bill.

“The team was given a deadline of 31 March to look at the minor challenges emanating from Labour Amendment Act No 5 of 2015 and up to 29 April 2016 to finalise substantive amendments. The team has made tremendous progress to this end, and looks forward to presenting the comprehensive principles to the TNF principals in the first week of May 2016.

“Already, the technical team has held five meetings and work is going on behind the scenes. What is important to note is the commonly agreed need to modernise our labour laws to suit the prevailing economic state of affairs.

“The following amendments are under consideration: (a) Clearly distinguishing termination of contracts on notice, retrenchments and disciplinary procedures. It was also proposed to separate procedures concerning termination of contracts due to death, incapacitation and retirement;

“(b) To enhance dispute settlement mechanisms, proposals have been put forward to repeal Section 93 (5) of the Principal Act and maintain Section 93(5) as in the Labour Amendment Act to remove the ambiguity. It is also being proposed that labour officers make rulings that are not subject to confirmation by the Labour Court;

“(c) To further refine retrenchment procedures, it is proposed that a timeframe be introduced to negotiations after the employer has given notice of intention to retrench. It is also proposed that the timeframe for the Retrenchment Board to consider applications for exemptions be extended; and

(d) The proposed amendments require that the Registrar be given a timeframe to consider applications for registration of employment councils, trade unions, etc.”

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