HomeLocal NewsCovid-19 measures spark labour disputes

Covid-19 measures spark labour disputes

By Staff Writer

THE Covid-19-induced lockdown has triggered a serious labour row between employees and employers over the payment of salaries and leave days among other labour-related issues.

This comes at a time workers have approached the High Court seeking to bar employers from turning away employees who have not been vaccinated against coronavirus. To control the spread of the pandemic, the government has introduced a raft of measures, some of which have affected businesses’ operating hours.

Currently, businesses are operating from 08:00hrs to15:30hrs and at 40% capacity. Remaining employees are supposed to be working remotely.

To ensure remote working, companies have put employees in shifts which have seen workers in most cases, reporting to work for 14 days a month.

Inquiries by the Zimbabwe Independent this week revealed that the issue of shifts has created major labour disputes in many companies and organisations where employers have resorted to paying their workers half salaries, arguing that is commensurate with the workers’ reduced productive hours.

The inquiries further revealed that in some instances, employees are being deprived of leave days as employers are now considering the two weeks that workers will not be at work as leave.

In Zimbabwe, every Collective Bargaining Agreement provides for minimum hours of work. The model Collective Bargaining Agreement recommends a minimum of eight hours a day, subject to the nature of the work, and 40 hours a week.

The reduction of working hours and forced mandatory leave have not gone down well with employees, who are now up in arms with their employers arguing that halving their salaries is not only tantamount to unfair labour practice but is also ultra vires Section 65 (1) of the Constitution which provides that: “Every person has the right to fair and safe labour practices and standards and to be paid a fair and reasonable wage.”

Affected employees who opened up to the Zimbabwe Inadependent expressed their disgruntlement over the salary issue.

“We appreciate the fact that we are in a crisis but it is a catastrophe not of our own making and therefore we should not be crucified for it,” a Harare-based worker at a fast food outlet said.

“My salary is not enough to cater for my family’s basic needs; imagine the implications of halving it. Their actions are not supported by law and the powers that be should chip in and assist us,” the worker said.

However, businesses are arguing that their actions are in sync with the laws of the land and are citing Section 12A (6) (a) of the Labour Act which addresses remuneration and deductions from remuneration.

The provision reads: “No deduction or set-off of any description shall be made from any remuneration except—where an employee is absent from work on days other than industrial holidays or days of leave to which he is entitled, the proportionate amount of his remuneration only for the period of such absence.”

According to business leaders, the provision in the labour act justifies their reduction of workers’ salaries because the wording of the clause gives the impression that when one is absent from work, a deduction from remuneration can be made.

Employees feel this is a deliberate wrong interpretation of the provision by companies who do not want to meet their end of the bargain.

Labour lawyer, Fungai Chiwashira, said the correct interpretation of section 12A (6) is a statutorisation of the “no work no pay principle”.

“However, that can only be employed where the absence is as a result of the employee’s fault, like embarking on an unsanctioned strike or deliberate absenteeism from work. Where the employer is the one who has caused the employee not to attend work, then that provision does not apply and the employer cannot rely on it to deduct money from remuneration,” he said.

Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe president Israel Murefu said companies were in a tight spot as they require adequate working capital to carry idle workers on their payroll while they are not productive.

“Many employers are still paying non-productive workers who are sitting at home but are struggling to keep them on their payrolls. Others may ask them to take paid leave in which case they minimise their leave accumulation while they are idle,” he said.

“Others may request employees to take unpaid leave during their idle time so as to minimise costs related to paying non-productive employees. Different employers are taking different measures to sustain both their businesses and workers but what is key is to ensure any action taken is within the provision of the law,” he said.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary general Peter Mutasa, argues that the majority of the measures being implemented by employers were unlawful and constitute unfair labour practices.

“Employers are taking advantage of the high unemployment levels in the country and a judiciary that has been interpreting the law in capital’s favour. It is also the government’s policy to favour employers over workers. So workers are fighting a heavy battle against employers who are supported by both government and in some cases judicial interpretations,” Mutasa said.

“The minister has those powers in terms of section 17 of the Labour Act. In South Africa, all these issues are covered under the directives issued by the minister which balances the interests of the employers and employees,” he said.

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