A typical example would be that of employees who would not have been paid their salaries or terminal benefits for months, if not years – who approach rights organisations such as the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice) for free legal assistance – yet just when their cases are proceeding they decide to withdraw after being offered some empty promise by their employer.
This scenario is so disturbingly widespread, such that one wonders why the exploited workers never seem to learn.
It is so similar to an abused wife, who reports her abusive husband to the police, but always withdraws the case after he promises never to do it again – yet, only a few days later, he beats her up.
The cycle keeps repeating itself, hopefully until the abused one finally realises that enough is enough.
How long will exploited workers continue allowing themselves to be punching bags of employers – always succumbing to their wiles?
If an employer has been callously refusing to pay an employee for months, if not years, what makes the employee believe that the employer would suddenly have a ‘road to Damascus experience’ and pay them without a fight?
These lies by employers are all too familiar that employees should be wary of them, and refuse to be duped.
I have personally experienced numerous such practices by employers
through my work with ZimJustice, as workers have been invited to
meetings after meetings – and given promise after promise – but,
without anything substantial materialising.
These tactics are used by employers simply to buy time, hopefully until the affected workers finally give up, or when there is nothing left to give them.
Without mentioning any names, but recently, a major company signed an agreement with its workers – both current and retrenched – to pay them a certain amount per month.
Needless to say, the workers – who had approached ZimJustice for pro bono legal assistance – withdraw their case; only to return months later complaining that their employer had reneged on their agreement.
This not only meant a delay in the workers receiving what was due to them, but also provided the company with ample time to dispose of most of its assets, such that nothing of value was left to be attached in order to pay the workers.
Workers need to be cognisant of the fact that the main reason their employers never paid them was that they did not want to part with money.
As such, the employer will not easily give up and pay the workers, but will do everything to avoid that – including paying off workers’ union leaders, so that they do not proceed with the matter with any seriousness.
Several workers have been the victims of such trickery, as they have sheepishly trusted their union leadership to resolve their issues, without the knowledge that they were being taken for a ride.
The same applies to some of the legal practitioners that these workers hire and pay huge sums of money.
They would believe that their case is making progress, as their lawyer takes them on a wild goose chase – since he or she would also have been paid off by the employer.
As such, employers will make empty promises to workers, so that they keep them quiet, whilst nothing meaningful takes place – maybe being paid once or twice, in order to make them (workers) believe that things are now moving.
By the time the workers wake up, they realise that their employer is insolvent.
The best strategy would be for workers to keep the legal noose firmly around the necks of their employers during these negotiations – preferrably through social justice activist organisations, who are less prone to bribery – as they embarked in such activism out of a genuine passion to fight and stand up for the rights of the oppressed, and also have a reputation to protect.
As long as the employer feels legal pressure during these negotiations and agreements, the likelihood of workers being deceived is very low.
It is therefore, our earnest hope that workers would bravely resist being duped by employers through these shady promises, and seek legal assistance from well-meaning organisations – as employers will never easily part with even a cent without a fight.
° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is Programmes Director at the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice). Please call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or email: [email protected]