Catholic Church in pay dispute

HARARE - The Roman Catholic Church’s Masvingo Diocese workers have won an arbitrator’s award of over $1 million after a ruling that they were underpaid for years, the Daily News can reveal.

Between January 2009 and December 2011, Catholic workers allege they were paid wages below the National Employment Council (Nec) stipulated minimums.

The workers, employed at the Catholic Church’s high schools in Masvingo including Berejena, Bondolfi, Mukaro, Gokomere, Silveira and St Antony’s say the church had its own set of minimum wages different from those of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (Cba).

The church is accused of not having applied for an exemption to effect these wages.

“On the issue of whether the claimants (workers) should waiver their claims of underpayments for the period 2009 to 2010 in order to lessen the burden of backpays on the respondent (Catholic Church), it was argued the Cba has no provision for such a waiver,” the court papers say.

“Therefore the claimants demanded to be paid all their claims in full.

“However, the claimants would agree to a reasonable payment plan where the restitution can be staggered into installments.”

The workers also allege they have “earnestly” tried to have an out-of- court settlement but found little cooperation from the Catholic Church.

Court papers also show the employer (Church) admitted to underpaying the workers during the period in question.

“However, it was submitted that their failure to comply with the Cba wages was not deliberate. It was stated that respondent was misinformed by its national executive that the minimum Nec wages did not apply to them, and that they had their own wages.”

Arbitrator Bester Mapisaunga found that there was a provision for exemption in the Cba to the effect that an institution which cannot pay the Nec rates due to genuine financial incapacity could apply for such.
“Unless this procedure is followed and the exemption granted an institution remains legally obliged to pay the wages in terms of the Nec Cba,” Mapisaunga said.

“Given the magnitude of the underpayments, there is really need that a payment plan be staggered in a manner that does not negatively impact on the school business.

“In cognisance of this fact, I determine that the claimants be paid $1 163 935 restitution for the underpayments in four equal installments beginning September 2012,” Mapisaunga said.

The Catholic Church, represented by Mwonzora and Associates, has since appealed for a stay of execution of the arbitral award.

“The employer’s argument has been that they do not have money and this is their way of delaying payment,” workers’ lawyers told the Daily News yesterday.

As the war rages on, the workers have since filled opposing affidavits against the church appeal.

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