GWERU, MIDLANDS PROVINCE —
The unrelenting economic crisis in Zimbabwe is seeing more companies shutting down while others continue to struggle, resulting in more job losses.
As many retrenched workers are faced with the problem of not getting their benefits, former employees of one of the country’s biggest state-owned companies have formed an association whose main aim is to ensure that the workers get their dues in full.
The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is one of the many companies in both public and private sectors that retrenched workers following last July’s Supreme Court ruling which gave employers the right to terminate employment after giving workers a three-month notice to end their contracts.
After the ruling, NRZ retrenched over 450 workers saying its workers were too many and it was struggling to pay monthly salaries.
Last October some of the workers came together to form an organization known as the Association of Railways Terminated Employees (ARTE).
Planning ARTE director Innocent Mupanganyama says the main objective of the association, which currently has 130 members, is to compel NRZ to give the former workers their full benefits and also to teach members to create their own employment.
“The prime objective is to coerce the former employer through all constitutional means to ensure that we are paid all our monies. And we are there to counsel our members, we are there to train them so that they can start business projects which can sustain them. As we speak we have already started a project of raising quails. It’s very promising.”
Clashes between the NRZ and its former workers over delayed payments of their benefits have been reported a number of times in the media as the workers have at times staged demonstrations to show their disgruntlement over the issue.
ARTE chairperson, Linda Musarira, acknowledges the protracted struggle over payment of their terminal benefits but says she is confident that all retrenched employees will get them in full.
“NRZ cannot say they cannot pay us or they don’t have the money. Where they are going to get the money is none of our business. What we know is we worked at NRZ, they owe us money, they decided to terminate our employment contracts, which meant they had the money. It doesn’t make sense that you’re claiming that there are too many people in the system and yet you keep recruiting. No organization that has no money continuously keeps recruiting.”
Another ARTE executive member, Musa Kapena, says NRZ cannot argue that it has no money claiming that the company’s top management gets hefty allowances.
NRZ spokesperson Fanuel Masikati and acting general manager Lewis Mukwada were not available for comment. Transport Minister Joram Gumbo has refuted claims that the company continues to recruit workers saying it has no money to do so.
But finance director, Frank Bhule, told a weekly newspaper recently that NRZ’s management gets between 70 and 80 percent of their salaries regularly despite the fact that the company often fails to pay other workers and former employees on time.
Mavis Mukayi, a former carpenter with NRZ and a single mother, says the delay in getting their severance packages is causing various problems for the ex-employees, including failure to provide basics for their children.
“As a result of not getting our terminal benefits from NRZ families are breaking apart every day, children are suffering. Some women are ending up as sex workers because they can’t let their children suffer. For example, I am a single mother, I don’t get any maintenance, I have a daughter who goes to school, and I have bills to pay, so, I’m left with little option.”
Chairperson Musarira says former workers with diseases like diabetes and hypertension as well as those living with HIV are also facing problems in accessing medication through NRZ’s medical aid branch, despite the fact that lump sum premiums were deducted from their terminal benefits.
She says there are also some former employees who need counselling as they have found it difficult to accept their fate.
Musarira adds that ARTE has already proved its effectiveness in helping former workers as it has been able to have NRZ agree to stop evicting some of them from company houses until they get their packages in full.
Some observers say the Supreme Court ruling has left employees at the mercy of employers. ARTE says it hopes to grow into an organization that can help retrenched workers elsewhere to get their requisite benefits.