GMB workers rap employer over ‘unlawful and unfair’ retrenchment

HARARE - Grain Marketing Board (GMB) employees have accused their employer of unlawfulness and unfairness in its handling of their retrenchment.

gmbThe GMB employees, who were served with letters of termination of employment notices on 5 August 2015, met with their employer at the Labour Office in Harare on Monday (14 December) to try and find common ground, but none was found.

The meeting, which was presided over by Labour Officer Mrs. Mapanzure, sought to tackle major grievances that GMB workers wanted resolved as a matter of urgency.

The employees’ claimed that their termination was unlawful and unfair, as they said that an employer could not terminate employment on notice, as this was a clear violation of the amended Labour Act, adding that they would claim punitive damages of 36 months on the basis of their service.

The GMB employees – who were represented by lawyers Mrs E. Malunga and Mr M. Gwisai, as well as workers’ representatives Masiyiwa, Mabika and Nyanhete – also demanded that their salaries, whose arrears exceeded 10 months, should be paid in full – vehemently denying their employer’s claim that the arrears were being cleared.

They urged GMB to give a clear position, including time frames, on salary payments as well as produce  a schedule on who was owed and the period of payment.

The employees further claimed that GMB was deducting money from their salaries for pension and the National Social Security Authority (NSSA), but was not remitting it to the relevant authorities.

They further insisted that their employer pays up to date all remittances, as they were entitled to full pension benefits.

GMB stands accused of having issued notices to employees for them to vacate GMB accommodation, which the employees claimed was invalid as accommodation was part of their benefits.

They added that, since GMB had not paid their salary arrears, it ‘had dirty hands’ and should not charge commercial rates for the accommodation or request employees to vacate.

In a separate interview, a worker representative alleged that the GMB had adopted a ‘fire and hire attitude’, whereby employees, such as, millers, general hands and security guards, where fired, but replaced the very same day.

He accused the company of being insensitive to the plight of its workers, whom he said, had given their whole lives to the GMB.

‘We have been dealt a heavy blow by our employer. After giving all our energy and devotion to the company, this is how it sees fit to treat us,’ he lamented.

The worker representative said that there was so much uncertainty amongst workers regarding their future, such that it was so painful.

‘After all those years of devotion, we had to go for nearly a year without a salary, yet we persevered for the company. But today they see it fit to just dump us. As if we were just a bunch of disposables. That is so unfair.

‘Now we are being told to vacate our houses. Where will we go? We haven’t been paid in nearly a year, so where do they think we will get money for rent from? They’re even saying that we should start paying commercial rates for the houses we are staying in now. Where will that money come from?’ queried the worker representative.

He further raised concern over the plight of their children, whom he said were most likely not to attend school next year, due to lack of school fees.

‘We don’t have money to pay school fees. Our children will most likely drop out of school. Is that the thanks we get from GMB? Instead of trying hard to deprive us of employment and our benefits, the company should be concentrating on helping us.’

He went on to say that most of those pushing for the company’s insensitive approach were people already affluent, and would not care less if the poor found themselves even poorer and destitute.

On its part, GMB – which was represented by its Industrial Relations Officer W. Nhliziyana and its Company Secretary R. Mzyece – admitted that it owed its employees salaries, and assured them that a schedule on salary arrears would be published on 21 December 2015.

The company also admitted that it had not been remitting money deducted from its employees, and said that Treasury was expected to pay directly to the various funds that it owed, such as NSSA, pension, and funeral – but could not give a specific date on these remittances.

GMB said that it could consider a mutual agreement on termination of employment, but only if employees accepted 5 November 2015 as the date of termination, an offer that the workers rejected.

The company insisted that its termination of its workers’ employment was legal and in accordance with common law, which was in place at the time of issuing the notices, a claim that was also rejected by the workers, who insisted that the amended Labour Act should be considered.

As the meeting failed to reach a consensus, it was moved that there be a certificate of non-agreement/settlement, and are now preparing for a second hearing in early 2016.

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Post published in: Business