National Foods in retrenchment fiasco

HARARE - National Foods Limited is embroiled in an acrimonious labour dispute with 10 senior managers and 15 junior employees over retrenchment packages that could see the company losing millions of dollars.

According to papers filed at the Labour Court by the employees, National Foods reportedly applied to the ministry of Labour for authority to retrench some of its workers.

It based the decision on the grounds that the firm was re-organising its operations, and said the employees had become surplus to its requirements.

However, after obtaining authority in July 2010, the company came up with a new proposal to retrench under what it termed “confidential separation agreement,” while discarding the government-approved “voluntary retrenchment scheme.”

This was after senior managers, most of whom had served the company for over 20 years earning an average monthly salary of

$2 000 each, had applied for voluntary retirement.

Ndabezinhle Moyo, the company’s operations manager, Bernard Dambaza (finance director); Lazarus Zvinairo, Shelton Musara and Fred Chipuru (all depot managers) Abel Manyame (production manager) Michael Toro (sales manager) Alford Bvukuta (bookkeeper), Cossam Tavarwisa (transport controller) and Obert Phiri (channel manager), claimed that the company rejected their applications and forced them to leave on less favourable terms.

In the court papers, the senior managers argued that their employer unlawfully retrenched them and had financially prejudiced them.

They also argued the confidential separation agreement was an evasion of the approved scheme and an unfair labour practice.

“Wherefore claimants pray for an order that respondent reinstate the claimants to their original positions without loss of salary and benefits or that if reinstatement is no longer an option, respondent pay the claimants the difference between what she actually paid them in terms of the confidential separation agreement and what she was obliged to pay them in terms of the approved voluntary retrenchment scheme,” the court papers read.

The other junior employees had also approached the Labour Court separately, making the same claim.

Yesterday, one of the sacked managers told the Daily News that the confidential separation agreement was a vehicle for corruption by the human resources department.

Rosseweater Usai, the National Foods human resources director, had not yet responded to questions emailed to her office at the time of going to press yesterday.

The employee said the agreement resulted in junior employees getting better packages than their seniors.

However, in a letter to the employees seen by this paper, National Foods group chief executive Jeremy Brooke, informed employees that they were free to apply for voluntary retrenchment as ordered by government.
The company however, turned down the applications.

“Following your application for the above scheme, I regret to advise that your application has not been successful,” Brooke said in the letter.

“The company still has a position for you in your current job as your services are still required.”

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