NRZ blocks formation of workers’ commitee


NRZ argues that the labour office has no jurisdiction to handle the matter as the workers can only be represented by a duly registered designated agent.

Kenneth Matimaire

MUTARE — The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is embroiled in a labour dispute after management at the eastern region office blocked its employees from forming a workers committee.
A total of 229 workers led by Linda Masarira referred the matter to the labour office after management refused to sanction the establishment of a workers’ committee at the company.
Documents in possession of the Financial Gazette’s Companies & Markets indicate that NRZ eastern area manager, Steve Mupondi instructed Mutare factory engineer, Andrew Bakasa on June 12, 2015 “to stop workers from forming a committee to advance their interests”.
The workers went on to seek conciliation at the labour offices where an arbitration meeting has been set for July 18.
However, NRZ argues that the labour office has no jurisdiction to handle the matter as the workers can only be represented by a duly registered designated agent.
“The invitation (to attend arbitration proceedings) is not consistent with the provisions of the Labour Act Chapter 28:01 as amended in that whereas the railway industry has at its disposal a duly registered designated agent who is authorised at law to deal with disputes of this nature, we note that your office is desirous to dispose of this matter, a position which is not supported at law,” NRZ stated in its response to the invitation to attend the arbitration proceedings.
The workers countered the legal submissions by NRZ, saying their employer was breaching the Labour Act Chapter 28:01 section 7 (1), which proscribed anyone from hindering, obstructing or preventing employees from forming a workers’ committee for the purpose of airing their grievances, negotiating any matter or advancing or protecting their rights or interests.
The workers further cited section 7 (2) of the same Act.
They said in a response seen by this newspaper: “Every employer shall permit the labour relations officer or a representative of the appropriate trade union or employment, if any, to have reasonable access to his employees at their place of work during working hours for the purpose of (a) advising the employees on the law relating to their employment; and (b) advising and assisting the employees in regard to the formation or conducting of workers committees and trade unions; (c) ensuring that the rights and interests of the employees are protected and advanced.”
The labour dispute comes several months after workers downed tools early this year after going for nine months without salaries.
It is understood that the beleaguered parastatal has been paying its workers 20 percent of their monthly salaries.
NRZ public relations manager, Fanuel Masikati, is on record confirming that the State-run entity has been struggling to pay its workers’ salaries.
Masikati said although they sympathised with the workers, there was little the company could do as it was facing financial challenges.
However, employees are of the view that with a worker’s committee in place, they would be better positioned to advance their interests.
The stricken parastatal is currently transporting six million tonnes of goods per annum, out of 80 million tonnes the system was designed for, due to a depressed market and reduced capacity.
In 2013, it moved 3,6 million tonnes of goods against a target of six million tonnes. Comparatively, in 1998, the NRZ moved 18 million tonnes.
The company is saddled with a US$144 million debt accumulated since dollarisation in 2009.