How The Zuva Court Ruling may have been Good

Before this labour court ruling, once you hired an employee chaibva chava chikwambo (they would haunt you) and you would be stuck with them forever – One person’s views


So Zimbabwe has been a mess of late, especially in terms of the labour market. no one is secure at their jobs anymore as most have received their letters of termination while others have seen them go to people they thought were untouchable in organisations. This all snowballed from a single court ruling in a case that involved Zuva Petroleum and two of their managers whom they had let go. I am sure most if not all of the Zimbabwe employed (and recently unemployed) really wish those two hadn’t fought so hard for their case. The former Zuva managers lost the case and they are part of the reason we are in this mess

What that case left is a numerous Zimbabweans unemployed in a country where so few were employed to begin with. In the first 60 days, more than 2000 jobs had been lost with more in the cards. Zuva won the court case, meaning they were found not to be in the wrong for letting their two managers go with no severance packages as the Court ruled that if the company did not have the money then there was no case. Unfortunately for most, this meant every company could do so on the common law basis of precedence.

I have spoken to a lot of people about this issue and a lot of people have differing views. Some saying this decision was for the good while a lot are obviously horrified by the resulting job losses. I guess in a country with over 75% unemployment already no one thought the few already employed could be so dispensable to companies. In the wake of the Zuva court ruling, a lot of people assumed parastatals and their seemingly hoards of unnecessary employees would be the first to exercise this new right to terminate employment and give just three months’ notice. This was further from the truth with private institutions jumping at the opportunity.

Why The Ruling could be good

A few years back I had a conversation with a group of scholars about the labour laws of Zimbabwe and how they protected employees at the expense of employers. While over the years the high unemployment rate and the move to contract employment had depleted this unfair employee advantage, companies have always had a hard time shedding employees even when the business absolutely needed it. This can even be seen by a historical look at labour court rulings in Zimbabwe…the rulings rarely ever went the way of the employer, with every dismissal becoming an unfair one and costing companies a lot not just in salaries but also in litigation charges.

Numerous people have linked the labour laws to poor levels of investment, citing that labour costs were high in Zimbabwe, and the costs of letting employees go were even higher. The issue of investment is neither here nor there and with everything that has been going on in our country it is difficult to hold on to our previous labour scenario as being a major contributor. So I will not talk about that.

What I will talk about however is the employee culture we were developing as a result as the advantage employees had over employees. Growing up in Zimbabwe, any ineffective work cultures were likened to working at government offices. Government workers were infamous for their reluctance to do the jobs they got a pay cheque for every month with the most popular of course being the ladies and gentlemen from the Passport and ID offices. Most popular for the culture of getting to work at 8 having tea between 9:30 and 11, lunch between 12:30 and 2pm and leaving the office 30 minutes before time. That is a culture that has now seeped into the private sector of Zimbabwe, maybe its people getting payback for the 2007-2009 years when they literally worked for nothing but even the private sector has so many workers quite content with going to work to sit and do nothing but wait for the month-end. The Zimbabwe workforce as a whole now has the government employee culture.

If you were to ask the question what are Zimbabwean employees most popular for in other countries the answer you will get is hard work. Hard Work! Zimbabweans in all corners of the world are known for busting their backs, working hard, working themselves to the bone, for being self-driven efficiency machines. Why would that be the case? Because their employment is not guaranteed in those countries. In other countries you can get an open ended contract and still have to work hard every day like it was the last month of your contract simply because of how the labour laws in other countries are. A simple question to Zimbabweans living in Zimbabwe, would you describe the workforce here in Zimbabwe as hardworking. How many can honestly (or could before all jobs were on the line) say they were putting in the same level of hard work they would in another country with less employee protective labour laws?

Getting a job is so hard now in Zimbabwe, we would rather stay in that job where we know we are getting paid for nothing as long as we get our pay cheque. That is where the unfairness stood for companies. There are also companies where employees have not been paid in months, years even; these companies also could not let go of their employees and at the same time the money they owed in salaries grew with every month they kept the workers on. It was really a hard situation. the employees on the other hand stayed hoping they would one day be paid for their patience and hard work through the months or years of non – payment. In such a case was it wrong that the companies finally got a chance to relive the salary budget pressures they had.

There are a lot of successful economies in the world with job security on the same level as Zimbabwe is on now which is; as long as you are useful you have a job…as long as you are efficient you have  a job. We cannot expect a company to keep us where we know there is no work for us to do because the labour act says they cannot release us from our contracts.

Bless the government for the Labour bill that was passed through

In my view, companies know the value of their employees and what they have contributed to the companies. It is not illegal for companies to give these packages where they deem necessary, so maybe right now it is the companies and not the court that has a problem. Fortunately or unfortunately, the economy is not an isolated world and this then affects a lot of areas of lives in Zimbabwe and obviously a lot of pressure falls on Government as shown by the comments made by ZCTU Secretary General Japhet Moyo in an article I read.

Other articles have spoken of the return to equal importance of employee and employer in a case where the employer too can give three months’ notice as were employees mandated to do when they terminated employment though we know that employers have been lucky to even get 24 hours’ notice in Zimbabwe when employees terminated employment. So it is no surprise that some schools of thought are of the opinion that this was a welcome development with Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe Mr John Mufukari saying “the decision brought natural justice to the labour market.” He called it a level-headed judgement where the court system went, and rightly so, apolitical in their decision.

Work started on a bill to “correct” the error of the Zuva court ruling, with a debate in parliament

“There is overprotection of workers…the current Labour Bill will scuttle investment. He argues that the Bill will chase away investors as it protects workers more than employers.  The view of Hon. Musanhu during the debate in Parliament on 18 August

He urges Labour Minister Prisca Mupfumira to ‘balance the equation and ensure that the industry survives’

The current state of labour law in Zimbabwe (with the not so secure jobs) could have been have been avoided even with the same Zuva Ruling. The reason why (among obviously some companies that already could not shoulder labour costs) the ruling turned everything into a fiasco is that Zimbabwean citizens and companies know that decisions can be overturned in a week! And that is where it went wrong:

**I am still in the process of completing a (hopefully) shorter article of where I think things went south after the Zuva Ruling


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