HARARE – At least 18 000 workers have been sacked by 48 companies in Zimbabwe since the middle of last month after the Supreme Court ruling which made it legal to dismiss employees with just three months notice and no other terminal benefits, nor retrenchment packages.
The number of those sacked may be higher as some who lost their jobs in the last few weeks did not report this to the unions.
Journalists were sacked by the privately-owned Daily News, and other media houses, as well as from the country’s most prominent and profitable company, Econet, which runs the largest mobile network in Zimbabwe.
It fired 400 workers and told others who did not lose their jobs that salaries would be cut by as much as 45 percent.
At least another 30 companies are known to have sacked workers, including private educational establishments.
Since the elections in 2013, which delivered a massive if disputed victory to the ruling Zanu PF, a quarter of the formal labour force have lost their jobs because of the contraction of the economy, according to statistics gathered by economists and the unions.
Senior trade unionist Kenias Shamuyarira, secretary-general of the Zanu PF-aligned Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions, blamed a “capitalist conspiracy” for the sackings and a “miscarriage of the interpretation of the law.”
He and others have called on President Robert Mugabe to use his presidential powers to reverse the Supreme Court ruling. Overriding the court would violate the new constitution which was negotiated and adopted during the unity government between Zanu PF and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parties from 2009 until 2013. But the constitution has been largely ignored by the present government anyway.
“Common law doesn’t mean just dishing out letters terminating contracts of employment and forfeiting of salaries and benefits. But, they [employers]are deliberately choosing to interpret a single section of the law to suit their demands,” Shamuyarira told state media Tuesday.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president George Nkiwane said most of the Zimbabwe media, with the exception of state-controlled newspapers, were ignoring the upturning of the labour laws.
“This is a serious issue, and it’s no longer certain if you’ll wake up and find your job safe.”
Many employers say privately they are relieved at the change because, for many companies, the sharp downturn in the economy meant a choice between going broke, or getting rid of staff and hoping for better times.
Now public service workers are wondering whether finance minister Patrick Chinamasa is also going to also give orders for job cuts, given that the government wage bill eats up more then 90 percent of national revenue.
“We know it is coming, we just don’t know when, maybe year end,” said a Harare primary school teacher.
Meanwhile AFP reports that – SA’s mining minister(today) Wednesday held urgent talks with business leaders to discuss thousands of job cuts by several firms in the key sector and to explore ways to avoid strikes.
Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramathlodi said he was going into the meeting to appeal to a “voice of reason” from all sides as the country’s economy struggles with poor growth and severe unemployment.
“I am saying to the companies and unions, let’s re-engage,” Ramathlodi told journalists ahead of the meeting in Pretoria.
“I am saying we don’t want another prolonged strike, particularly in this environment. It’s a really bad environment.”
The meeting comes as the mining industry is bleeding jobs, with about seven companies in recent months announcing jobs losses amid falling prices.
Last month, the world’s third largest platinum miner Lonmin announced plans to slash 6,000 jobs in South Africa, prompting an outcry from government.
On Tuesday, Glencore said it was putting its Optimum Coal Mine, which supplies the state-owned power generator Eskom, into a form of bankruptcy protection as it seeks to restructure the company, citing “unsustainable financial hardship”.
The firm had in the past few months cut hundreds of jobs in an attempt to reduce costs.
Glencore said in a statement Optimum “had suffered financial hardship as a result of its agreement with Eskom” which it signed in 1993 to provide the entity with 5.5 million tonnes of coal a year.
“The agreement has resulted in Optimum supplying Eskom at a cost significantly less than the cost of production for a number of years,” Glencore said in a statement.
Ramathlodi said there had been meetings between the firm, his office and Eskom to discuss the matter.
“We want to save the mine, I hope very much that we find solutions,” he said.
Trouble is also brewing in the gold sector, with wage talks deadlocked, raising fears of a strike that could deal a blow to the already ailing industry.