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Ex-RBZ guards back at court

By Fidelis Munyoro

The labour dispute pitting the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) and security guards it retrenched nine years ago is back at the Labour Court, for the second time in four years, with the former workers demanding their dues.

Former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono with workers retrenched by the bank (file photo)
Former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono with workers retrenched by the bank (file photo)

The Supreme Court referred the dispute to the lower court in January 2017 to consider whether the salaries and benefits stipulated in the works council agreement (WCA) concluded in September 2010 encompassed the 153 former security guards.

According to the ruling, if the agreement applied to 153 guards, then the matter should proceed to quantification of the salary and benefits due to each guard in terms of the agreement.

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The calculation would be from March 1, 2009 to the respective date of expiry of each guard’s employment contract.

When the matter was heard anew as per the Supreme Court order, the Labour Court dismissed the workers’ claim against the RBZ.

It held that the workers failed to discharge the onus on them proving they were covered by the WCA upon which their claim of salaries and benefits was founded.

The ruling, prompted the latest appeal, which was heard in June last year and judgment was delivered this month.

After hearing submissions by counsel for both parties, a panel of three Supreme Court judges, Justices Lavender Makoni, Antonia Guvava and Susan Mavangira, allowed the appeal by the former central bank security workers.

Writing the judgment for the court, Justice Makoni quashed the Labour Court judgment and once again remitted the matter back to the lower court, but this time to be heard by a different judge for proper determination of the matter, after noting gross misdirection in the decision made.

“It is accordingly ordered . . . the appeal be and is hereby allowed. The judgment of the court a quo be and is hereby set aside,” she said referring the matter to the lower court.

Justice Makoni said the Labour Court’s failure to decide whether in terms of the specific provisions of the September 2010 WCA and minutes accompanying the agreement, the workers were entitled to the benefits therein, constituted a material misdirection justifying the intervention of the Supreme Court.

Now, a different judge of the Labour Court is expected to decide whether on the basis of specific provisions of the WCA in question, the salaries and benefits stipulated in that agreement were intended to apply to the former workers.

“It is also a matter which the court a quo is in a position to address, thus, remittal is appropriate in the circumstances,” she said.

The matter would be remitted to be heard by a single judge who shall not be any other judges who determined the matter previously.”

The Supreme Court ruling followed an appeal against the judgment of the Labour Court setting aside an arbitral award in favour of the guards which upheld their claim for payment of salary arrears and benefits.

Labour Court judges Susan Chivizhe and Fatima Maxwell heard the matters that gave rise to the present appeal.

The guards, all former police officers, were employed by the central bank on fixed-term contracts renewable every three months. Their contracts ranged from 2007 and 2008 until January and April 2011 when they expired by the passage of time.

The contracts were not renewed because the project for which they were employed was finally wound up in 2011. The Herald