ASSOCIATED Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) no longer has any meaningful assets that can be auctioned to pay retrenchment packages for the 153 employees dismissed in July 2003, lawyers representing
the publishing company say.
The ANZ, publishers of the banned Daily News and Daily News on Sunday, is embroiled in a fresh legal battle with its former employees over severance packages.
Mordecai Mahlangu of Gill Godlonton & Gerrans, representing the ANZ, told a labour hearing on Wednesday his client’s balance sheet reflected “a sad state of affairs due to its inability to publish and generate revenue over a long period”.
The papers were forced to close down on September 13, 2003.
“My client’s major asset was being able to publish. Unless the company is given a licence there is no way it can pay. The company has no assets. It has no resources,” Mahlangu said.
Mahlangu had initially disputed the number of people entitled to retrenchment packages saying his client was not obliged to pay people now working elsewhere.
But Selby Hwacha of Dube Manikai & Hwacha law firm, representing the former ANZ workers, said the ANZ management was liable to pay either salary arrears to the employees backdated to July 2004 or retrenchment packages as set down by the labour minister on October 19 last year.
“The fact that some have found jobs does not relieve the employer of his obligation. The employer’s pleas (that it is unable to pay) are not relevant in terms of the Labour Relations Act,” Hwacha said.
Hwacha argued that the ANZ was in this situation because of a problem created by the employer, not by the employees.
Last Wednesday Hwacha threatened to attach ANZ property if need be.
Former workers of the Daily News newspaper on November 2 launched a fresh bid to get their retrenchment packages, more than a year after the courts ruled in their favour.
The workers say they had put the issue of retrenchment packages on the back burner during the last 13 months in the hope that the company would be granted an operating licence by the government to resume publishing.
But the workers say their hopes for a quick return to Old Mutual House were shattered a fortnight ago after the chief executive officer of the company, Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, filed nomination papers to stand on an opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) ticket in this month’s senate election.
They said the move by Nkomo could see the government hardening its stance towards the embattled company trying to parry accusations of being an opposition mouthpiece.
In July last year, the Labour Court awarded Daily News workers $5 million each as relocation costs and six months pay for every year served to each individual. The court also awarded two years’ pay to workers who had served for less than a year.
The ANZ appealed against the ruling but lost the case.
The retrenched workers accused Nkomo of neglecting their welfare since the closure of the newspaper two years ago.
“We now think management is feeding on our plight. It has been more than a year since a ruling was made in our favour but the company seems to be dragging its heels on the issue,” said Taka Mparutsa, a former chairman of the workers’ committee.
Another former worker, Luxon Muringani, said: “Sipepa Nkomo has abandoned us judging by the way he is seeking political office when he has always assured us he will never seek a political solution to get the Daily News re-opened.”
But the ANZ boss has rejected charges that his standing for the MDC in the senate election would jeopardise the paper’s bid to secure an operating licence.
Workers also wondered how the company expected to get back on the streets if it has no assets left.
Lawyers for workers and the ANZ agreed to go to arbitration next week.