COMPANIES must do everything possible to keep workers on their payroll as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced businesses to either scale down or completely shut down operations to comply with the ongoing 21-day lockdown, Government and employers have said.
Some companies are already considering salary cuts, discontinuing contracts for part-time employees or outright retrenchments to avoid haemorrhaging resources at a time they are not generating enough revenues.
Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (EMCOZ) president Mr Israel Murefu told The Sunday Mail that while businesses had taken a knock as a result of Covid-19 and the attendant efforts to fight it, companies had to strive to prevent job losses.
Laying off workers would have a far-reaching impact on the economy in general and on households in particular.
Mr Murefu said: “Covid-19 has seriously impacted on businesses; for instance, the tourism industry has closed shop. Whatever happens, employers should minimise retrenchments. They should engage and reach an agreement with workers’ representatives. All this should be done in terms of the labour laws, thus no one should make unilateral decisions to just lay off workers.”
The tripartite forum comprising Government, labour and business, he added, had to craft mutually agreed guidelines designed to promote better outcomes.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Professor Paul Mavima similarly urged companies to avoid retrenchments, unpaid leave and unfair terminations during the lockdown period, which ends on Sunday.
“Use of unpaid leave during the lockdown period should only be considered through mutual agreements. Accordingly, social dialogue structures at enterprise level and National Employment Councils (NECs) should be used for this purpose.
“Create mechanisms that allow workers to work from home, work in shifts (critical staff) and leverage on the use of technology during the lockdown period and post the Covid-19 pandemic phase,” said Prof Mavima in a statement.
Government has since encouraged employers to deal fairly with workers in line with the country’s labour laws, particularly Section 65 of the Constitution and Section 2A of the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01), which declare and define the fundamental rights of employees and provide for the resolution of any disputes between employers and workers.
Government has come up with a $600 million package to support the informal sector and vulnerable households.
Over one million families will benefit from cash transfers, while tax refunds for businesses will be expedited.
It has also come up with incentives for businesses to import critical raw materials needed to fight the pandemic.
Big companies, however, believe that more needs to be done to insulate them from loss of business.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) president Mr Henry Ruzvidzo said Government needs to broaden measures to protect jobs since manufacturing companies had been operating without reserves, thus had no capacity to settle wages beyond one month under the lockdown.
“A robust stimulus package will be necessary. Use of loan guarantees and adjustments to rules on non-performing loans can be considered. Offsetting the 2 percent tax against wage payments and widening tax bands can also be considered,” he said.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) president Mr Peter Mutasa urged labour, Government and business to craft ways of mitigating challenges posed by Covid-19.
In response to the ravaging effects of the coronavirus, the National Employment Council for the Agricultural Industry in Zimbabwe has introduced slashed contributions from members for three months.
NEC Agriculture chief executive officer Mr David Madyausiku said the council was aware of the trade and financial challenges that came with the national lockdown.
The council then resolved to cut monthly dues for April, May and June 2020 from 5 percent to 3 percent in light of the lockdown due to the pandemic in order to free up resources for workers.
Said Mr Madyausiku: “To provide some relief to employers and employees of the agricultural industry, the council of NEC Agriculture has resolved that council dues for the months of April, May and June 2020 shall be equal to a total of 3 percent of all employees’ monthly basic wages.
“Hence, for dues of April, May and June 2020 each employee shall pay dues equal to 1,5 percent of his/her monthly basic wage, and the balance of 1,5 percent shall be payable by the employer. Dues for the month of July 2020 and thereafter, shall revert to the regular rate of 2,5 percent, aside, of employees’ monthly basic wages.”
He said the NEC Agriculture will continue operating to service the agricultural industry through digital platforms during the lockdown.
“The temporary partial exemption from monthly dues is part of NEC Agriculture’s continuing efforts to provide support to the agricultural industry. We trust that the agricultural industry shall continue to thrive in spite of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Businessman and PACT Capital and Advisory Services chief executive Mr Nickson Mlambo said Covid-19 had changed how businesses will operate going forward.
He said some companies will craft new remuneration models to pay employees for work done and use of performance-monitoring mechanisms to track performance and targets.
“Companies will use more technology like video calling, Zoom and Skype for meetings as more people will work from home instead of spending money on high rentals. Old business models need to be reviewed going forward,” said Mr Mlambo.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 25 million people around the world are likely to lose their jobs.
Lockdown measures are currently affecting 2,7 billion workers globally in food and accommodation, retail, business services, administration and manufacturing sectors.
Covid-19 has infected 13 people and killed three in Zimbabwe, while global infections are now over 1,5 million.
According to the US-based Johns Hopkins University, more than 102 000 people had succumbed to the disease by yesterday.