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Ex-RBZ workers win labour row

by Staff reporter
05 Feb 2024 at 04:09hrs | Views
THE Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has been ordered to pay a group of 168 retrenched former security officers' salary arrears accrued over two years, putting to rest a 15-year-old labour dispute.

The salary arrears were accrued between February 2009 and September 2011, with the legal battle over the definition of the word "all" in an agreement between the RBZ and its staff and whether this included ungraded contract workers, the security officers.

The Supreme Court ruling followed an appeal by the Reserve Bank against the judgment of the Labour Court setting aside an arbitral award in favour of the security officers which upheld their claim for payment of salary arrears and benefits.

At the centre of the dispute was whether the salaries and benefits stipulated in the works council agreement concluded in September 2010 encompassed the 168 former security officers.

In their appeal, the security officers argued that the lower court erred when it made a finding that the word "all" as stated in the minutes and the resolution of the agreement did not include them.

They argued that the word "all" had to include them. A list was placed before the court of 1 079 employees including the security officers.

The officers argued that it would have been absurd to exclude the security officers from the salary negotiations for the sole reason that they were on fixed term contracts. The agreement gave "all" employees across the board a salary increment of US$500.

But RBZ argued that the security officers' contracts of employment specifically stated that the contracts were fixed term for three months and the salary to be paid to them was provided for in the contracts, as a standard salary of US$250.

The bank argued that the agreement could not include the security officers on the basis that they had no grading system and had contracts with specific provisions of their conditions of service, so the works council's resolution did not change the provisions of their contracts and did not refer to the security officers who were fixed-term employees hired for a specific period and a specific project.

The RBZ insisted that the Labour Court correctly interpreted the agreement and the minutes before it in arriving at the finding that "all" employees meant all non-managerial permanent employees of the bank but excluding contract employees.

After hearing argument from both parties' counsel, Justice Antonia Guvava sitting with Justice Tendai Uchena and Justice Hlekani Mwayera allowed the appeal by the security officers finding that the definition of employees as provided for in the Labour Act was all encompassing and acknowledges that there are different types of employment relationships which are formed on different terms and conditions.

She ruled that the works council agreement was two pronged: first to award an increment of US$500 across the board, including salary arrears from March 1 to 31 December 2009 and this could not be said to involve a grading system as it was awarded across the board.

The grading system was only introduced from January 2010 and provided for a salary of US$500 for the lowest paid worker.

It was apparent from the papers before the judges that the thrust of the security officers' claim was the basic salary of US$500 which was awarded to all employees across the board.

"The works council agreement, which related to grading of employees and other benefits could not have applied to the appellants (security guards)," said Justice Guvava.

"In my view what was applicable to the appellants was the decision to award a salary of US$500 to all employees regardless of whether they were permanent or contract workers and whether they were graded or ungraded."

To this end, the judge said the Labour Court correctly found that the word "all" in the works council agreement and minutes was in respect to all employees of the central bank, but then fell into error by failing to appreciate that the reference to the word "all" employees in the works council agreement encompassed the security officers as they were duly employed by the bank at the time when the agreement was consummated and resolved.

"In the circumstances, the appeal must succeed. With respect to costs, there is no reason why the costs should not follow the cause," said the judge allowing the appeal with costs.

"The parties shall agree on the quantification of the arrear salaries for each appellant within 30 days of this order. In the event that the parties fail to agree on the quantum, either party may approach the Labour Court for quantification."

In 2017, the Supreme Court referred the dispute to the Labour Court to consider whether the salaries and benefits stipulated in the agreement concluded in September 2010 encompassed the 168 former security officers.

 According to that ruling, if the agreement applied to 168 officers, then the matter should proceed to quantification of the salary and benefits due to each guard in terms of the agreement.

The calculation would be from March 1, 2009 to the respective date of expiry of their contracts.

The security officers, all former police officers, were employed by the central bank on fixed-term contracts renewable every three months.

Their contracts ranged from 2007 and 2008 until January and April 2011 when they expired by the passage of time.

The contracts were not renewed because the project for which they were employed was finally wound up in 2011.

Source - The Herald
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