Avian Flu hits Irvine's hard

HARARE - Zimbabwe's largest poultry and table eggs producer — Irvine’s — has been hit hard by the ravaging Avian Flu outbreak, with the company cutting working hours and terminating  contracts for some employees.

The company told the Daily News that while it has taken “all possible measures” to preserve jobs, the crisis “has had a negative impact on our turnover and profitability”.

Early this year, Zimbabwe was rocked by the highly pathogenic Avian Flu, which almost decimated the country’s poultry industry, as hundreds of thousands of birds were condemned.

According to reportage by the Financial Gazette the outbreak cost Irvine’s $7,3 million in May this year.

It severely affected the supply of chicken, breeding stocks and table and hatching eggs.

“Our table eggs’ production has been reduced by over 55 percent as have day old chicks,” the company said, adding “we are importing hatching eggs to partly cover the gap caused by the loss of parent flocks, however, the cost of these eggs is very high as compared to our own production cost”.

Following the crisis, the department of Livestock and Veterinary Services ordered the company to depopulate all poultry and quarantine its Lanark Farm, which houses half of its breeder and laying chickens.

“This development seriously affected the company’s production, with many employees being left without any work,” Irvine’s said Monday.

The poultry producer said while cost-saving plans have been developed to address some of the challenges, however, “over 50 percent of our overheads are labour-related”.

In order to avert job losses, Irvine’s said it engaged employees over “special measures to avoid retrenchment as provided for in the Labour Relations Act and also our Industry Collective Agreement for employees who fall under the National Employment Council (Nec)”.

“The company has secured written agreements on short time working with all the other employees who do not fall under the Nec,” it said, further stating that “an application has been made to the Nec employees”.

It awaits feedback on the application.

In addition to effecting shorter working hours, Irvine’s did not renew contracts of fixed-term workers, retirees and those post retirement.

“The company employed a few employees on fixed-term contracts and these have regrettably not had their contracts renewed,” it said.

It added: “Similarly, retirees on post retirement special contracts have also not been offered new contracts.”

However, Irvine’s said the fixed-term contract workers had been with the company for relatively short periods of time. 98 percent of the company’s employees are permanent.

It said in terms of the Labour Relations Act and Collective Bargaining Agreement for their industry, the company cannot unilaterally terminate such contracts and “we have not done so”.

In light of anonymous complaints by some of its workers, Irvine’s said it “has made every endeavour to retain as many of its staff as possible”.

“The company has even gone to the extent of retaining hundreds of employees who will have absolutely no work to do over the next few months.”

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