By Richard Chidza
VICE-PRESIDENT Phelekezela Mphoko has joined the bandwagon of businesspeople taking advantage of a recent Supreme Court order that gives employers the greenlight to terminate contracts and has dismissed about 100 workers at his Choppies supermarkets.
This comes amid reports that President Robert Mugabe’s company, Gushungo Holdings, is also struggling to pay its workers with some employees from the dairy producer still to be paid their July salaries.
Mphoko, who was appointed by President Mugabe following the Zanu PF congress late last year, is reportedly a major shareholder in the supermarket chain that has its roots in neighbouring Botswana.
A man answering the phone of Choppies’ national human resources manager Maron Munyavi sounded jittery when contacted for comment. He at first confirmed he was indeed Munyavi but upon realising the subject of the discussion he changed goalposts and denied he was Munyavi although he could not explain his earlier confirmation or how he came to be in possession of Munyavi’s mobile phone.
“Who told you that? I am not Maron Munyavi, this is a wrong number, get comment from Choppies head office in Bulawayo at DC,” the man said apparently showing intimate knowledge of the company structures and operations.
In a letter dated June 30 to a reported 90 workers from Choppies security department the vice-president’s company said it was terminating their contracts in terms of Section 24 (5) (a) “of the commercial sectors Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) incorporating Statutory Instrument 45 of 1993 and all its amendments”.
“Please note that you are given three months’ salary in lieu of notice not given to terminate your services with Choppies Zimbabwe, and the effective date of termination is 30 June 2015. The contract which was entered by you and Choppies Zimbabwe in accordance with provision of Section 24 of CBA of the Commercial sector of Zimbabwe,” said the letter.
Mphoko’s company cites case laws including Rhodesian cases.
“The termination is made in accordance with section 24 of NECCSZ (National Employment Council for the Commercial Sector Zimbabwe) and this held to be test in the case of Art Corporation Limited vs Moyana 1989 (1) Zlr 304 (s), Blackley vs City of Harare 1978 Rlr (Rhodesian Law Reports) 403,” the letter added.
Workers interviewed by The Standard said they had refused to sign the “memorandum of agreement” but Choppies had gone ahead and paid into their accounts amounts ranging from $1 000 to $1 500.
“We did not sign anything because we think it is unfair. It has been common practice by Choppies to dump people as and when they wish. They use political power and now that Mphoko is vice-president they have told us they are untouchable,” said a worker.
Ironically the workers claim Choppies has engaged a professional security firm to provide the same services that the workers where providing.
“We were accused of theft but these accusations were never proven. Last year we had assistance from another security company whose contract was also terminated on accusations of theft buy its security personnel,” The Standard heard.
Choppies said it would pay all statutory terminal benefits that included three months cash in lieu of notice and all outstanding accrued annual leave days and overtime as agreed or specified in terms of Section 12 of the Act.
Meanwhile unconfirmed reports claimed last week that Mugabe’s Gushungo Holdings was having difficulty paying its workers.
“We have always been paid on the 22nd of each month but this time we have not been paid our July salaries yet. We have not been paid and are not sure when we will,” said a worker who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Repeated efforts to seek comment from the firm’s management headed by Stanley Nhari were fruitless. Nhari’s mobile phone was not being picked up on Friday and remained unreachable yesterday.
Mugabe’s government is also finding it difficult to pay its civil servants as economic stagnation continues to take its toll.
According to the Supreme Court judgment an employer or an employee may terminate a contract of employment service by giving notice in terms of the contract but such notice shall be three months in the case of a contract without a limit of time or a contract for a period exceeding two years. The Standard