No allowances for workers, Supreme Court
THE Supreme Court ruled Monday that there was no legal basis compelling employers to pay workers housing, education and other allowances, dealing labour another mortal blow as thousands are already being fired without benefits in a tanking economy.
This week’s ruling comes after the same court declared that companies could fire workers at their pleasure without paying any terminal benefits, a development that has already seen at least 6,000 people being rendered jobless without the ‘packages’ many had come to expect upon being retrenched.
Monday’s ruling related to a case between the insolvent government-owned National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) and its workers who have gone for about a year without salaries.
An arbitrator, in a decision also upheld by the Labour Court, had issued an order compelling the crippled parastatal to pay its workers outstanding housing and educational allowances.
The company appealed the decision at the Supreme Court and Justice Venanda Ziyambi, sitting with Justices Elizabeth Gwaunza and Antonia Guvava ruled in the NRZ’s favour.
Justice Ziyambi backed the NRZ’s contention that it was only obligated to pay the basic salary and not the allowances.
“The appellant (NRZ’s) position was ‘I will pay you the best salary that I can pay in the circumstances but I cannot pay allowances’. There is nothing wrong with that approach,” said the judge.
“Each undertaking is beset with its own peculiar circumstances. The fact that one employer considers it appropriate to pay allowances, puts no obligation on another employer to do the same . . .”
The top court ruled that arbitrators had no business imposing conditions or trying to craft employment contracts on behalf of the feuding parties.
Said the judge: “In my view both the Labour Court and the arbitrator ought to have found that the allowances, not having been negotiated by the parties and therefore not forming part of their collective bargaining agreement, were not a right or entitlement available for appropriation by the respondents.
“This is a matter for the parties to bargain and reach agreement on. It is not a matter where a court can intervene. A court can only intervene to enforce any agreement the parties will have concluded.
“The arbitrator could not therefore impose terms and conditions in the collective bargaining agreement.
“His finding that housing and school fees allowances ‘have to exist in one form or the other’ was misguided, devoid of any legal basis and irresponsible.
“So too was the subsequent award of the said allowances in percentages lacking evidential foundation and as submitted by the applicant ‘plucked out of the air’.” -NewZim