HARARE – Protests by former Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) workers have forced the International Air Transport Association (Iata) to indefinitely postpone a scheduled audit of the beleaguered national airline.
The protestors were part of the 300 former AirZim employees who lost their jobs in July 2015 following a Supreme Court ruling that allowed employers to get rid of their workers on three-month notices.
The workers challenged their dismissal at the Labour Court, which ordered that they be brought back to work in August last year.
AirZim appealed the ruling at the Supreme Court, which is yet to make a determination.
About 100 of the former AirZim employees have been demonstrating at the airline’s premises, demanding that they be re-instated.
Their presence has forced Iata to shelve a crucial audit that was meant to bring the airline back on the global aviation map.
AirZim was kicked out of Iata in November last year for failing to comply with minimum safety requirements.
The European Union bloc had proceeded to blacklist AirZim after it lost its Iata membership.
As it is, AirZim is unable to service some of the most lucrative routes that other airlines have gladly taken over and is confined to local and regional flights.
Carried bi-annually, the Iata Operational Safety Audit (Iosa), the audit is the benchmark for global safety management in airlines.
All Iata members are registered and must remain registered in order to retain the association’s membership.
AirZim had spent at least $600 000 preparing for the two-week-long audit, which was set to commence on Monday.
An advance team from Iata touched down at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on Thursday last week for the audit only to be welcomed by close to 100 former AirZim workers who had camped at the airline’s premises demanding to be reinstated.
Sensing danger, the mission was aborted.
Before the audit team’s arrival from France, AirZim management had unsuccessfully tried to forcibly remove the protestors so that the audit could start without incident.
They first sought assistance from the police who declined to intervene saying they could not involve themselves in a labour matter.
Management then enlisted the services of a private security company (Oswell Security) which despatched its personnel on Saturday — armed with ferocious dogs — hoping that the protestors would have dispersed by the time the audit team arrives.
A huge scuffle ensued between the security guards and the workers who stood their ground.
After failing to disperse the angry former employees, AirZim bosses then sought recourse from the minister of Labour and Social Welfare Petronella Kagonye who issued a Show Cause Order to the workers, temporarily suspending the industrial action.
Dated January 15, 2018, the order was served to the National Air Workers Union and the Air Transport Union, which represent the employees.
“You are hereby directed to appear before the Labour Court to show cause why the collective job action initiated by you and involving Air Zimbabwe (Private) Limited. Pending the determination of this matter, I further direct that the collective job action be terminated immediately and in any case, 24 hours of the service of this order,” reads part of the order.
“If you fail to show cause at the time and place notified, you shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine exceeding level 14 or to imprisonment not exceeding five years or to both such fine and imprisonment”.
In terms of the order granted by Kagonye, the workers’ representatives will appear before the Labour Court judge on January 27 to explain the cause of their action.
Ironically, the date coincides with the end of the Iosa audit.
Kagonye could not be reached for comment as she was said to be attending meetings.
AirZim corporate services and communications manager Tafadzwa Mazonde confirmed postponing the Iosa audit which was scheduled to run between January 14 and 19.
“We are now working on modalities to ensure that it is done within this month,” he said.
“The Iosa audit basically … gives us an assessment and viability of the airline and we felt that it is not intelligent and prudent and neither is it strategic to proceed with the audit under the circumstances which we are currently experiencing. We have got a group of former employees who have come and set up what I believe is an illegal action at the airline’s premises, erecting banners and posters around the perimeter fence of the airline. We would not want to portray an image of instability and also lack of proper organisational systems within the airline,” Mazonde said.
He argued that the illegality of the demonstration stemmed from the fact that the airline had appealed against the Labour Court ruling to reinstate the workers.
“The action that was taken in 2015 remains unlawful until a court order says otherwise. Indeed, a court order was issued sometime in 2017 to the extent that they should be reinstated, but however as an airline, we then lodged an appeal which was filed at the Supreme Court on November 23, 2017. That appeal, in terms of the law, suspends the Labour Court ruling. So as far as we are concerned, they remain former employees of the airline,” he added.
Mazonde said they had sought an interdict from the High Court, which the protestors defied.
When the Daily News crew arrived at the AirZim premises yesterday, some former employees were preparing their afternoon meals in the company’s car park while others were milling around the place.
Some had erected their camping tents while others had their sleeping bags.
They were waving banners denigrating AirZim board chair Chipo Dyanda, who was not answering calls on her mobile phone when contacted for comment, and also did not respond to emails and text messages forwarded to her mobile phone.
“Chipo, stop killing AirZim,” read an inscription on one of the banners plastered along the fence.
Two guards from Oswell Security were still manning the premises with their dogs on leash but avoiding any confrontation with the workers.
Workers who spoke to the Daily News denied that they were targeting the Iosa audit.
The chairperson of the Air Transport Workers Union Alexander Guchu said they have been camping at AirZim’s premises since November last year and the situation only worsened on Saturday when the airline’s board and management hired dogs from Oswell Security to attack them and threatened to pull down their banners.
“We are only coming here to ask what belongs to us,” said Guchu, who was fired from the airline in 2015.
The vice president of the National Airways Workers Union Elijah Chiripasi said AirZim should engage his leadership.
“The workers managed to defeat the Oswell Security guards. I was called in by someone … saying the situation had deteriorated. We wonder why the employer does not want to talk to us and chose to bring in dogs to bite them,” he said.
Mazonde professed ignorance about the dogs incident, saying he was off duty when it happened.