GIANT sugar producer Tongaat Hulett has sacked thousands of contract workers barely two months after they embarked on a crippling month-long industrial action that disrupted local sugar supplies.
Last year, Tongaat Hulett group CEO Mr Peter Staude warned that the company would be forced to cut jobs because of the El-Nino induced drought conditions.
It became a double whammy for workers who are already smarting from salary deductions effected for the period they were on strike.
Tongaat Hulett invoked provisions of Common Law allowing companies to dock salaries for days employees do not report for work.
Sources familiar with the goings-on at the sugar producer told The Sunday Mail Business that more than 2 700 workers had been released at the company’s Triangle Estates, while 1 600 contract workers were fired from Hippo Valley Estates.
“At Triangle there were 4 600 contract workers but they have since been reduced to 1 900 while at Hippo Valley Estates, there were 2 500 contract workers and the number has also been whittled down to 900.
“Permanent employees have also been forced to write statements indicating why they were absent during the days of the strike while massive deductions were made from workers’ January salaries for all the days they did not report for work.
“So bad were the deductions that many workers took home about US$9 …” said the source.
Questions sent to Tongaat Hullett — Triangle and Hippo Valley Estates — corporate affairs and communications manager Ms Adelaide Chikunguru last Wednesday had not been answered by the time of going to print.
Workers at the sugar estates down tools to force their employer to match their salaries with those of their peers at the company’s Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland units, who are understood to be earning US$350 per month.
Local employees earn US$180.
The bulk of local employees, under the Zimbabwe Sugar Milling Industry Workers Union, heeded the strike call while those under the Sugar Production and Milling Industry Workers Union of Zimbabwe reported for work.
The job action was viewed as illegal as workers failed to take their matter for arbitration after a deadlock in wage negotiations for April 2015 to March 2016.
SPMWUZ, an affiliate of the United Food and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe, said it was worried about the job losses and also concerned that Tongaat was directing subscriptions for its 7 000 members to ZSMIWU.
Ufawuz general secretary Mr Adoniah Mutero said Tongaat was “grossly interfering” with the activities of the trade union.
“Tongaat refused to deduct dues from all members of SPMWUZ who had renounced membership in ZISMIWU,” said Mr Mutero.
It is claimed that Tongaat is remitting union dues for 34 employees whom it says are known to have registered with SPMWUZ.
Hippo Valley is not remitting anything; while Triangle is deducting dues from “exclusive” members of SPMWUZ despite the law allowing employees to join as many unions as they please.
The entire SPMWUZ executive committee members’ union dues are also being directed to ZISMIWU. The Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Ministry wrote to Tongaat human resources director Mr Fred Nyangwe on January 18, 2016 urging him to effect the check-off system.
“It has come to our attention that (SPMWUZ) is experiencing problems with your organisation in effecting the check-off scheme for their members. In terms of section 52(1) (of the Labour Act), this registered union has a right to collect union dues and in terms of section 54(1) your organisation, as an employer of the union members, is obliged to collect union dues through check-off scheme and remit to the union.
“We expect that if there is required documentary proof of affiliation of members to a union, the employer should effect deduction(s) accordingly. We also believe that we both share the same aim of promoting industrial harmony, hence we request you to address this anomaly. Please note that this also applies to those who resign from other unions,” said Labour Secretary Ms Grace Kanyayi.
Mr Nyangwe referred questions to Ms Chikunguru, who claimed Tongaat was remitting union dues to SPMWUZ. After being told that they were only remitting dues for 34 employees, she requested questions in writing but again had not responded by the time of publication.