Zim’s Tongaat Hullet workers deadlock over collective bargain
By Walter Mswazie
MASVINGO – An industrial action is looming at one of Zimbabwe’s major sugar producing company Tongaat Hullet (Pvt) Limited in Chiredzi amid reports that the workers ‘ union and the employer recently reached a deadlock on a 39 percent salary increase proposal during a collective bargain meeting.
The workers represented by the Zimbabwe Sugarcane Milling Workers’ Union (ZISMWU) were pressing for a 39 percent increase on workers’ wages presently pegged $180 for the lowest grade. The workers argue that after deductions, they are left with $100 take home.
Now they want at least $250 as a living wage.
Labour court papers state that the collective bargain meeting between the union and employers held at Masvingo labour court recently showed that the two parties failed to reach a consensus on 39 percent increase proposed by the workers union.
The union was then urged to take the matter for voluntary arbitration given that there was a dispute of right to compulsory.
The matter would be heard at the High Court by a retired judge after which, the ruling on the arbitration will be made, on a date yet to be announced.
Tongaat Hullet represented by Thomas Dheka and ZISMWU represented by acting President Lucia Chirhilele signed a certificate of no settlement before Masvingo provincial labour officer Norman Dube paving way for arbitration.
The impasse between the lowveld company and its workers begun in 2015 when more than 16 000 workers downed tools causing a literal shut down of the company over salary increase.
The four-week long industrial action did not yield the much needed results as the employer did not respond positively to the workers ‘grievances despite promises to look into the matter once they returned for work.
After the strike, the company dismissed some workers accusing them of being involved in an unsanctioned and crippling strike which saw the company suspending operations.
A company source said there is nowhere workers ‘grievances could be heard because according to the agricultural industry that they fall under, their dues are above the recommended rates.
“The collective bargain will never materialise because workers are getting more than the stipulated rates. The agricultural sector considers these general workers as farm workers and company is giving rates that are above than of a farm worker,” said the official who asked not to be named.
Dheka declined to comment on the matter.
“Our matter with workers is within the courts now, we cannot discuss it in the media. It will be prejudice. You can go to the court,” said Dheka who represents Tongaat in the matter. The workers argue that the company subsidiaries in Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa give their workers between $400 and $700 and yet the Zimbabwean company produces more than them per year.
Unconfirmed reports are that the stock exchange-listed company realised about $51 million as profit last year.