By Dumisani Nsingo and Shepias Dube
The Government has ordered the National Railways of Zimbabwe to start retrenching its workers and by Friday the parastatal had shown 500 workers the exit door with reports indicating that more than 1 000 would be fired from the struggling company.
This comes amid reports that Zimbabwe Grain Bag and Apollo Tyres Zimbabwe had also sacked workers in Bulawayo under the Supreme Court ruling pushing a combined 188 workers onto the streets in the last two weeks.
Statistics availed to Sunday News show that Zimbabwe Grain Bag has axed 108 employees while Apollo Tyres Zimbabwe dismissed 84 employees.
NRZ board chairman Engineer Alvord Mabena yesterday confirmed that the parastatal was in the process of retrenching but was quick to say the laying off of workers was not part of the recent Supreme Court ruling, which gave employers permission to terminate contracts on notice but was a Government directive.
“Firstly, I would like to refute speculations that we are going to retrench 1 500 workers. We are still going through our systems . . . ensuring that we remain with a number equitable to our business operations. We have almost 500 (retrenched) so far and by Monday we should be able to give you the specifics,” Eng Mabena said.
He said management spent the better part of last week busy identifying and informing staff who had been laid off.
“We are only implementing a Government directive and it’s not only NRZ, which is doing the exercise but all the parastatals under the ministry’s portfolio such as Air Zimbabwe, CMED and Zinara.”
A letter shown to Sunday News, confirms the parastatal’s decision to reduce its workforce which has endured close to a year without salaries.
“We advise that the National Railways of Zimbabwe has decided to and hereby terminates your contract of employment on three months’ notice.
“The notice period shall take effect from the day immediately following that of your receipt or delivery of this letter at your residential address as indicated in our records,” read part of the letter.
The letter continues: “You are not required to perform any of your contractual duties during the notice period, save that at the discretion of the National Railways of Zimbabwe you may be required to hand over or provide information relating to your responsibilities.
“Your pay in lieu of notice shall be deposited into your bank account in the usual manner at the end of each of the notice months. Any other amounts owed to you by the organisation shall be paid to you in accordance with the current practice.”
Management also ordered the fired workers to surrender all property belonging to the parastatal in their possession to the NRZ headquarters are in Bulawayo.
NRZ has over the years been reeling under challenges such as obsolete equipment, the need for rail line maintenance and high staff overheads.
The NRZ has also suffered as a result of the general decline of the country’s economy.
Neglect of maintenance, lacking spare parts and overdue replacement of equipment have led to a situation where only part of the railroad net is in good condition and equipment problems have led to reduced service.
Steam locomotives have been reintroduced since 2004 as coal is in relatively good supply, while diesel must be imported and electricity shortages are common.
Further, the company is seriously indebted, making it impossible to solve this situation without external help. Goods transport has declined, from 18 million tonnes in 1998 to two million tonnes in 2010.
At its peak, NRZ was one of the biggest employers in the country employing close to 8 000 employees.
Reports indicated that the company wanted to retrench 6 000 workers, almost three-quarters of its workforce.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa in his mid-year monetary policy fiscal on Thursday confirmed that Government was in the process of streamlining its workforce and that of parastatals.
“Hence, Cabinet has given a directive to the minister responsible for the public service, in conjunction with the minister responsible for Finance, to urgently propose remedial measures to gradually bring down the share of the wage bill in the budget from over 75 percent to under 40 percent.
“Accordingly, as the responsible ministers, we have undertaken an extensive exercise engaging the various line ministries, benefiting from the technical support and co-ordination of the Public Service Commission, the Judicial Services Commission and the Health Services Board,” said Chinamasa.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe Chemical Plastic Allied Workers Union (ZIMCPAWU) regional co-ordinator Mr Robson Mutero said Zimbabwe Grain Bag and Apollo Tyres were among the leaders in Bulawayo in the chemical and plastic sector in terms of termination of employee contracts.
“I can confirm that employees in the plastic and rubber industry, which the ZIMCPAWU represent, constitute the majority of the workers fired on the basis of Justice (Godfrey) Chidyausiku’s ruling,” Mr Mutero said.
In addition to Grain Bag and Apollo Tyres, Mutero said Zimpharm and Plus 5 Pharmaceuticals had dismissed nine and two workers respectively.
Mr Mutero said they had since received information indicating that soon the axe would descend on Treger Plastics.
“Employees at Treger Plastics are living in fear because word is already circulating that they are the next to suffer the consequences of the Supreme Court ruling,” said Mr Mutero.
He said the situation was better in the northern region where less than 50 workers from the sector had been served with termination letters so far.
Mr Mutero said employers in Bulawayo were targeting employees in the workers committees and those who were considered vocal against exploitative tendencies by employers.
“As it is the secretary of Grain Bag workers committee has been fired because he has been vocal on issues affecting the welfare of workers,” he said.
Investigations by Sunday Business also revealed that the two employees who were given termination of employment notices at Plus 5 Pharmaceuticals (Pvt) Ltd were the chairman of the workers committee and his vice, Mr Albert Muzire.
“Management at Plus 5 fired us because we refused to be used as tools to subjugate and oppress fellow workers,” Mr Muzire confirmed.
He said it was high time Government realised that uncouth employers were using the Supreme Court ruling to settle personal vendettas with employees.
More than 10 companies either headquartered or with branches in Bulawayo have over the past few weeks sacked employees using the same ruling.
The companies include Monarch and many others that are affiliates of Econet Zimbabwe.
Some of the Econet Zimbabwe subsidiaries that have retrenched include EcoCash, Econet, TN Harlequin and TN Asset Management. This is in addition to such other companies as Farm and City and Meikles.
Meanwhile, ZIMCPAWU said it was geared to take the legal route to stop companies from wanton dismissals.
Mr Mutero said they were confident of winning the case because employers seemed not to understand the essence of the judgment passed by the Chief Justice.
“The ruling was specific to Zuva employees and must not apply to other employees whose contracts do not state the same,” said Mr Mutero. Sunday News