Supreme Court Speaks on Job Termination

    Friday the 17th of July saw the deliverance of a judgment long awaited by Employers in Zimbabwe as the Supreme Court ruled in their favor in the Zuva Petroleum case. Two managers were held to have been properly dismissed on three months’ notice as in accordance with the common law. At the end of the day this judgment opened the flood gates to dismissal with three months’ notice by employers and the general feeling across the country was that of betrayal to the Labour Act which has always been viewed as the protective shield against employer brutality. There is always many sides to a story.

    This seemingly double edged sword piercing through the hearts of many employees may be the best thing that has ever happened in this capitalist economy. We are of the opinion that this judgment is a somewhat different interpretation of the law that has always been. Section 12 (4) of the Labour Act has always provided for the contract of employment to be terminated by either party to it. It has been working in favor of employees because retrenchment has been too costly for the Employer but in reality there has not been any explicit statutory instrument that completely abolished this common law position.

    Viewing this judgment with emotions aside brings the realization that the Act in Section 2A the purpose of the Act in Section 2A is to advance social justice and democracy in the workplace. The spirit behind is to promote harmony in the employment sector meaning promoting common ground to two groups of people in opposite positions but united with one objective, to make profits. If the employee can as of right decide to terminate employment without need to explain himself/herself, the same ought to also apply to the employer as the effect is generally the same for either party.

    Where an employee’s contract is terminated on notice when he/she least expect it, damages may be suffered by the employee who may find it difficult to secure employment thereafter and in some cases the employee would have served for a considerable period of time yet he gets no exit package. Similarly, an employer whose employee terminates the employment relationship under circumstances where he is least prepared for it may suffer irreparable damages. In most cases, the employer would have invested in the employee by training him and equipping him with knowledge and expertise in the field concerned expecting that employee to benefit the enterprise with such skill only to have such employee bid farewell the moment he/she becomes experienced and of value to the employer.

    It is in that regard that justice is served by placing both parties at an equal foot. If the employer can not be allowed to terminate employment on notice why should the employee be allowed to? It will only be tantamount to discrimination against the employer.

    We are not giving a blind eye to the cries of those employees that may have been with a company for five, ten or more yes being loyal and working even through the harshest conditions. In all honesty, the capitalist environment is not a nursing home, it is a place to make profits. All those ten years that one worked for a company may count for nothing if the person has become incompetent, resistant to the growing need of technology and or is just too comfortable to work. It has been expensive for the employer to keep or dismiss such an individual but owing to this blessing in disguise productivity in companies will improve. Investors will start doing business with our nation because instead of harboring recalcitrant and incompetent employees, companies will become effective. The reality of it is if one is doing their job correctly and efficiently there is no reason to worry. To the unproductive and unable employees of many companies we say you had a good run but it is time to rest.