Employee grievance handling procedures in Zimbabwe
By Etiwel Mutero
Although it is desirable that the workplace become a haven of peace and tranquility it so happens that issues and complaints arise. Shelly Frost of Demand Media noted that issues and complaints arise even in organizations with strong management and competent workforce.
In this article the author will focus on the internal workplace employee grievance handling procedures.
“A real or imagined cause for complaint, especially unfair treatment” is a web definition of a grievance. The National Employment council for the Welfare and Educational Institutions of Zimbabwe (2005:8) defines a grievance as a complaint or dissatisfaction by an employee or employees about a particular condition or about general conditions of employment including any particular behaviour on the part of management or fellow employees.
Kay Miranda of Demand Media list issues which may trigger a grievance as follows; things you are being asked to do as part of your job, the terms and conditions of your employment contract, for example your pay, the way you are treated at work, discrimination at work, promotion issues, unfair transfers, demotions, underpayments, you might think that your colleagues are bullying you because of your race, age disability or gender.
It is therefore, necessary for every employee to know the correct channels to follow in case of any complaint or grievances arising in order get a redress to any problems faced at work. Grievance handling procedures are normally detailed in a document called the Code of Conduct sometimes termed the code of ethics which sets the standard to legal, moral and superior work environment.
Carter McNamara as quoted by Kay Miranda says, “Ethics is learning the difference between right and wrong, and then doing the right thing”. That is the aim of a written down code of conduct, to stipulate the right and wrong behaviors at a workplace and try by all means to encourage both the employer and the employee to choose right practices and behaviors.
The Labour Act Chapter 28:01 Section 101 disqualifies most of the Codes of Conducts used by some of the Zimbabwean organizations. A code of conduct is a negotiated document between the employer and employees represented by the Workers Union.
There is no room for any employer to impose any code of conduct on workers without any consultation with the Workers Union in the Works Council. The negotiated and agreed code of conduct must then be registered with the Ministry of Labor through the Ministry’s Registrar in terms of Section 101 (1).It is the prerogative of the Registrar to register the Code of Conduct or refer the code to the Works Council for corrections or improvement.
The Labor Act goes on to say where there is a National Employment registered Code of Conduct all organizations falling within the industry covered by that particular National Employment Council are bound to use that NEC’s Code of Conduct save for organization which may need to apply for exceptions by applying direct to the NEC covering its industry to register its own code of conduct.
There is a number of unregistered codes of conduct out there, such codes have no legal basis and that employees must verify if Codes of Conduct used at their workplace are registered by the Ministry of Labour or not. If a Code of Conduct is not registered, it cannot be used in either grievance handling or disciplinary issues.
Usually most Codes of Conduct encourages that grievances be settled informally where an aggrieved employee just talks with his/her immediate supervisor and then the supervisor solves the dispute. However, this is not always the case because sometimes the immediate supervisor will be the cause of grievance or dispute.
In such cases an employee can write a formal complaint as a MEMO or he/she fills grievance forms specifically designed for that. The grievance forms are usually kept by the Human Resources Department. The employee then forwards the letter or form to the immediate supervisor.
The NEC Code of Conduct for the Welfare and Educational Institutions in Zimbabwe (2005:9) states that “A grievance must be redressed as expeditiously as possible. In redressing the grievance the employee must be afforded an opportunity to state his grievance and all principles of natural justice must be observed.”[Emphasis mine]
Usually the Code of Conduct must state the number of days the immediate supervisor or any internal appeal authority must respond to the grievance. If the employee is dissatisfied with the response or he/she receives no response at all with the stipulated time of response he/she can appeal to the next internal authority as laid down in the code of conduct.
Workers are encouraged to exhaust local remedies as they pursue their grievance to be addressed before attempting to seek for redress with Labor Officers or the NEC designated agents.
Failure to exhaust local remedies may turn a sat back especially when cases are appealed in court where judges may rule in favour of the employer by referring cases back to internal grievance handling committees all because the employee did not exhaust local remedies.
At one point the employer must sat a Grievance Handling Committee to investigate and hear the employee’s concern and make a ruling for or against the employee depending on the facts gathered by the committee.
If the employee is still not satisfied by the ruling of the internal Grievances Handling Committee, having been satisfied that local remedies have been exhausted as detailed in the Code of Conduct, the employee may escalate the grievance or dispute to the Labour Officers of the Ministry of Labour or the National Employment Council Designated Agents for redress. The author will write another article on conciliation and arbitration.
Employers are encouraged to solve employees’ grievances internally with empathy and avoid unnecessary grand standing.
Allowing sometimes petty grievance to escalate outside to Labour Officers, NEC Designated agents and courts may impact negatively on the company’s image and may result in unnecessary costs such as legal fees and attachment of property by the Sherriff or the messenger of court.
Etiwel Mutero holds a B.Sc. Honors Degree in Records and Archives Management. You can contact him on +263773614293 or email him on firstname.lastname@example.org or on facebook.com/emutero