Walter Mswazie in Masvingo
AN industrial action is looming at sugarcane growing and processing company, Tongaat Hullet in the Lowveld after workers and the employer reached a deadlock over a 39 percent salary increase proposal by employees during a collective bargaining meeting.
The workers represented by the Zimbabwe Sugarcane Milling Workers’ Union (ZISMWU) were pressing for a 39 percent salary increase while the employer was insisting on zero increase. The lowest paid worker at the company earns $250 per month.
According to Labour Court papers seen by Sunday Business, the collective bargaining meeting between the union and employers held at Masvingo Labour Court failed to reach a consensus on 39 percent increase proposed by the workers’ union.
The union was then urged to take the matter for voluntary arbitration given that there was a dispute of right to compulsory.
The matter would be heard at the High Court by a retired judge, after which the ruling on the arbitration will be made on a date yet to be announced.
Tongaat Hullet represented by Mr Thomas Dheka and ZISMWU represented by acting president Ms Lucia Chirhilele signed a certificate of no settlement before Masvingo provincial labour officer Mr Norman Dube paving way for arbitration. The impasse between the company and its workers started in 2015 when more than 16 000 workers downed tools for four weeks over salary issues. The four-week long industrial action did not yield the much needed results as the employer did not respond positively to the workers’ grievances despite promises to look into the matter once they returned for work.
After the strike, the company allegedly dismissed some workers accusing them of being involved in an unsanctioned and crippling strike which saw the company suspending operations. A company source said there was nowhere workers’ grievances could be heard because according to the agricultural industry that they fall under, their salary was already above the recommended rates.
Said the company official: “The collective bargaining will never materialise because workers are getting more than the stipulated rates. The agricultural sector considers these general workers as farm workers and the company is giving rates that are above that of a farm worker.”
Contacted for comment, Mr Dheka said since the issue was now in court he would not add more. The workers’ main bone of contention is that their counterparts at other regional subsidiaries in Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa are earning between $400 and $700 per month.