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Opinion: Labour Bill, Too little too late

Lately companies have gone haywire dismissing workers haphazardly. In a period of four weeks close to 20 000 workers were shown the exit door.

Struggling companies obviously smiled to the July 17 ruling which allowed employers to lay off workers on 3 months’ notice without going through the affluent retrenchment procedure.

Even the ones that are performing well also utilized the recent ruling to send part of their workforce home.

The ruling re-asserted the position, which stipulates that a company/employer can rightfully terminate a contract of employment on notice.

GMBCompanies including Pelhams, Econet, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, Grain Marketing Board (GMB) among others took advantage of the July 17 Supreme Court ruling which served as an escape route for the  payment of affluent retrenchment packages.

Many workers are now living under the spectra of being dismissed from their jobs without their terminal benefits.

Government has reacted to this initiative by introducing amendments to the Labour Act, which are perceived to protect both the worker and the employer.

If passed into law, the bill is meant to protect workers who are being recklessly fired. Yes it might protect the workers who are still employed but my worry is on the workers who have already been fired.

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Does it mean that all is history for the fired workers? How will they adjust to the harsh economic environment?

At this point someone who is not employed is far much better than someone who has just been retrenched. Why am I saying so? The one who is already unemployed obviously knows and has mastered survival skills in these difficult times.

Contrary to this, the one who has just been fired depended sorely on his/her monthly salary. The salary which has now been taken away.

The bill is coming in late as multitudes of workers who have been forced to go home have already lost the battle to companies which are in turn smiling after escaping expensive retrenchment packages.

Imagine if one was the bread winner in a family and is served with a termination notice and subsequently fired without any retrenchment package. What will happen to such people?

Late last week the state broadcaster laid off close to 300 workers using the powers granted by the Supreme Court ruling to employers implying that 300 more breadwinners were ripped of their breadwinner title.

The landmark ruling passed has unsettled the country’s labour force already suffering from failure by companies to pay salaries on time and a worsening economic situation and the proposed bill is coming at a time when excessive harm has already been done. 

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A lot of companies have now gone for years without salaries due to the economic collapse of the past decade. Salaries have accrued to the point where companies are not in a position to pay up the accrued salaries.

As proposed on the amendments to the Labour Act employment councils and works council will agree on compensation packages that will be used for future retrenchments.

I openly welcome such an initiative in which both parties agree on compensation packages. The Bill is also a relief to workers but it is too little too late, the damage has already been done.

Please download the Labour Amendment Bill 2015 – Labour Amendment Bill, 2015

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Journalist based in Harare

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