Zimbabwe Supreme Court Guts Worker Job Security

The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe upheld a decision late last week stating that companies can now terminate workers’ contracts at any time, without offering them layoff benefits, by giving them three months’ notice.

The unanimous decision “has grave consequences for anyone under formal employment,” according to one news source and comes “at time when business is crying for flexible labor laws in order to improve industrial competitiveness,” according to another analysis. Employers often use the term “flexible” as a euphemism to describe workplace policies that benefit management at the expense of working people.

Noting that many jobs already have been lost in the days after the court ruling, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said in a statement that the judicial action is the latest in a series to “casualize” workers—that is, create an environment in which formal-sector workers, like those working in the informal economy, have few workplace rights

“The ruling will have an adverse effect of destroying the gains achieved over the past 35 years, with far-reaching economic” consequences, ZCTU said. Zimbabwe’s union movement is planning street protests until the government takes action to resolve the issue.

The case was brought by Kingstone Donga and Don Nyamande, who cited unfair dismissal and contract termination by their former employer, Zuva Petroleum. The employees argued that the Labor Relations Act had abolished the employer’s common law right to terminate an employment contract on notice. The court agreed with the employer.

More than 72 percent of Zimbabweans live in poverty, and the vast majority of the country’s nearly 15 million people are not employed in the formal economy. Rather than creating opportunities for stable, decent jobs in the formal sector, the ruling creates further economic destabilization.

Under Zimbabwe’s Labor Act, “every employee has the right not to be unfairly dismissed,” and the law details the process employers must follow when seeking to terminate an employee.

One analyst notes that employers will still need to exercise caution when they terminate employment on notice because there is still scope for them to be challenged on grounds of unfair dismissal. For example, a group of employees fired when pregnant would have cause to bring a discrimination suit for unfair dismissal.