By Shame Makoshori | NewsDay |
At least 300 workers fired by Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) five years ago, who have won a long-drawn legal battle to return to work, say they are owed $100 million in outstanding salaries by the struggling airline.
In High Court papers filed on December 24, in which they demand that AirZim administrator Reggie Saruchera be removed from the role, two unions representing the workers say this amount is rising daily because their relationship with the airline still subsists.
They say AirZim had an obligation to pay them monthly salaries.
The unions indicated that this amount has seen the combined debt accumulate since July 2015, when the airline “wrongfully, unlawfully and unfairly dismissed (them)… in a typical labour carnage or genocide” following the controversial Zuva judgment, which gave companies the power to fire workers at short notice.
The National Airways Workers Union and the Air Transport Union filed a case at the High Court on Christmas eve demanding that Saruchera be removed from his position for failing to comply with the December 7 Supreme Court order, which said they should return to work.
Saruchera is cited at the first respondent in the case, with AirZim being the second respondent.
“The conduct of the respondent has unduly and unjustifiably delayed the reconstruction of (AirZim) and frustrated the applicants’ members as employees who are now creditors to (AirZim) owed over $100 million, and the debt keeps mounting each passing day because the employer-employee relationship remains subsisting as was confirmed by the authoritative Supreme court judgment of December 7 2020,” the papers read.
“The balance of convenience definitely weighs in favour of the applicants in this matter as they are entitled to their wages and benefits in terms of the law.
“This honourable court is urged to grant this application to salvage applicants’ (workers) rights, which are at stake. The applicant’s members, who are reeling under social injustice, abject poverty and penury arising from deprivation of payment of their salaries and benefits as a source of eking out a living have been unjustly, wrongfully and unfairly forced to incur legal costs for this court application and it is just, fair and equitable that they be reimbursed,” the court papers said.
However, even if the airline agrees to draft them back to their positions, the workers will move into a totally different terrain as so much has changed at the national airline.
Back in 2015, AirZim was limping, but there was a semblance of hope following the arrival of two Airbus A320 jetliners, which were being used to open new routes and rebuild the airline’s lost markets.
AirZim entered the Tanzanian market in 2016, only a year after relaunching the Harare-Lusaka route using the Chinese assembled MA60 airliners. Most of this fleet has been grounded for various reasons.
And even before the COVID-19 pandemic grounded airlines this year, AirZim’s operations had been affected by a sea of hurdles including lack of capital and sliding passenger numbers.
The latest aircraft to be drafted into the AirZim fleet — two Boeing 777s acquired by the ill-fated Zimbabwe Airways from Malaysia in 2016, are too big to salvage the airline’s domestic and regional routes. But the workers believe that removing the State-appointed administrator would solve the airline’s problems.
“The first respondent has failed to execute his duties set out in the Act under which he was appointed an administrator, grossly neglecting payment of the applicant’s salaries and benefits owed and accruing from July 2015 running into millions of dollars, hence the application for his removal owing to failure to protect and safeguard the concerned employees’ right to be paid their salaries and wages,” the court application said.