Econet dragged to court over workers’ rights abuses

A fortnight ago we published a story in which we highlighted that Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) listed entity Econet Group violated labour laws and was one of the biggest companies in Zimbabwe with gross workers’ rights violations record in the country.

 The company hastily issued a statement rubbishing our report.

 “We are one of the biggest employers in the country and our contractual arrangements with staff are at all times within the law,” read part of Econet’s statement. 

However, contrary to the company’s denial, the proof is in the pudding and investigations made by this publication revealed that more than 20 employees from its subsidiary Steward Bank have pending cases of  alleged workers’ rights  violations heard before the Labour Court.

Other cases have gone unreported as workers fear reprisal, we have been told.

The documents seen by this publication show that several employees are seeking legal recourse in various disputes involving alleged workers’ rights violation and unfair termination of employment.

Zimbabwe Banks and Allied Workers Union (ZIBAWU) filed applications on behalf of more than 20 workers’ committee members who were fired on the basis of the infamous 2015 ZUVA ruling and others who had various labour issues.

The bank has been operating without a workers committee since 2015 which is a complete violation of the Labour Act.

“The bank has been operating without a workers’ committee and as you know it is illegal as stipulated in the Labour Act so for Econet to claim that they operate within the confines of the law is a great departure from the truth,” said a ZIBAWU member who refused to be named.

In a report dated June 14 2019,  the National Employment Council (NEC) for Banking indicated that the bank has no workers committee as stipulated in the Labour Act and the NEC designated agent advised the employer to provide a conducive working environment that allows workers to exercise their rights.

In the report, Steward bank acknowledged the absence of a workers committee arguing that employees raise their grievances through staff engagement meetings which the NEC regarded as a violation of the Labour Act.

“While the employer indicated that all employees are regularly engaged by top management during what they call “staff engagement meetings” where they are encouraged to present any issues that they may have, while the top managers present issues relating to the organization, it is noted that in as much as such an arrangement might be useful, it may not provide the setting conducive for executing  subsection (5) and especially subsection (6) of section 25A of the Act…,” read part of the report.

The report further states that Steward Bank does not pay for overtime and workers have since stopped claiming same for fear of victimization.

The findings also cited that a local human resources consultancy firm which hires employees on behalf of Econet Group does not pay wages as stipulated in the Statutory Instrument and does not classify them as permanent workers.

“Their human resources consultancy firm that Econet contracted exploits workers  and pay them peanuts.

“They also classify them as volunteers to avoid paying severance packages and terminal benefits.

“If you go to the Econet customer care call centre now, a lot of young educated professionals are being exploited on broad daylight.

“It’s unfair especially that the visionary Strive Masiyiwa is a well   known philanthropist and Christian.

He must address these issues to his management,” said our source.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) Secretary General Japhet Moyo weighed in and said Econet was a master of employing exploitative methods through skillfully circumventing the law.

“Econet has what they call volunteers, but these are workers on either part-time or fixed-term contracts. Never have we experienced such exploitative methods than at such companies.

“How does someone volunteer to offer labour and wait for a thank you as and when the employer wishes to pay?

“The idea is to circumvent our labour laws.

“They use their financial muscle to create their own unbearable industrial relation,” said Moyo.

In its statement discrediting the findings made by this publication, Econet wantonly neglected to address the elephant in the room which is the failure to uphold workers’ rights as stated in the court papers at hand.