IT has been quite a bloodbath as the lot of Zimbabwean formal sector workers — a fast diminishing class — was rendered extremely vulnerable by last week’s Supreme Court judgment that has spawned carnage as hundreds of workers’ contracts were summarily terminated.
Candid comment by Stewart Chabwinja
Employers, some teetering on the brink of collapse due to a hostile and deteriorating operating environment, hastily took full advantage of the ruling allowing employers to fire workers at three months’ notice without paying anything in the way of terminal benefits, no matter the length of service rendered.
The flurry of dismissals has sent shockwaves across the nation with many workers dreading their fate would be sealed through a terse termination letter, but hoping against hope government would come to their rescue.
The firings are a further tragic reminder that contrary to President Robert Mugabe’s claims just over a year ago that the economy was on the recovery path after government effected “measures to guarantee economic resurgence”, the economy remains ill in intensive care.
This is manifest in, among other indicators, in more and more firms, including blue-chip companies, introducing cost-cutting measures such as freezing staff recruitment, retrenchments and termination of contracts to stay afloat. This suggests Mugabe’s measures are either coming in the wrong dosage, or are the wrong prescription altogether.
There are dire consequences for all stakeholders in this disaster, not least of all government whose revenue shortfalls will worsen as the tax base shrinks further owing to further de-industrialisation and informalisation — the new economy, government calls it.
Implicit in the fallout from the judgment is the need to balance the interests of the employer and employee who, now more than ever before, is particularly open to unfair labour practices given the scarcity of jobs. The two should be able to meet each other roughly halfway, in a give-and-take compromise.
As pointed out by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the termination of an employment relationship is likely to be a traumatic experience especially for the worker as the loss of income has a direct impact on his or her family’s well-being and self-esteem.
It warns as more countries seek employment flexibility, as is the case with Zimbabwe which is currently reforming its labour laws, and globalisation destabilises traditional employment patterns more workers are likely to face involuntary termination of employment at some point in their professional lifetime. But at the same time, the flexibility to reduce staff and dismiss underperforming workers is a necessary measure for employers to keep enterprises productive.
The task is thus, the ILO says, to strike a balance between maintaining the employer’s right to dismiss workers for valid reasons and ensuring such dismissals are fair and are used as a last resort.
Sadly, the dismissal rush cannot be said to be “fair” and will condemn more Zimbabweans to rising poverty.