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Outrage as IndustriALL ExCo member sacked in Zimbabwe

9 October, 2012IndustriALL takes action as the persecution of the Zimbabwe Electricity Workers Union (ZEWU) escalated last week with the dismissal of its president Angeline Chitambo.

The dismissal of President Chitambo, who is also a member of the IndustriALL Executive Committee, took place without a fair hearing and follows from the sacking of 135 workers by Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Company (ZESA) in July 2012, the subject of an on going LabourStart campaign (http://www.labourstartcampaigns.net/show_campaign.cgi?c=1540).

IndustriALL reacted to this treatment of its Executive Committee member with coordinated visits to Zimbabwean embassies in Johannesburg and Geneva on 10 October. IndustriALL leadership visited the Zimbabwean Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, 10 October, to demand a meeting with Ambassador Manzou there. Numerous requests for a meeting had been ignored by the Ambassador, and he again refused to meet. See the video of General Secretary Raina insisting that the Ambassador listen to his demands for justice for ZEWU and Angeline Chitambo.

Simultaneous to the Geneva visit, a meeting took place at the Zimbabwe Embassy in Johannesburg between Mrs Florance Makombe in charge of Trade and Investment at the Embassy and IndustriALL’s regional office leadership together with affiliates NUM and NUMSA. The trade union delegation demanded that the Zimbabwe government intervene and ensure that ZESA implement the arbitration award and reinstate the dismissed workers or at least award them a fair hearing.

ZEWU has served a notice of appeal to the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Company (ZESA) on the basis that the disciplinary hearing was improperly constituted as notice was issued only 4 hours prior to the hearing and not 3 working days as required by law. Chitambo was dismissed after a hearing that took place in her absence and in the absence of her legal and union representatives. 

ZESA management alleges that Chitambo disclosed confidential information at a press conference damaging the image of the company. Assistant General Secretary of ZEWU, Mbonisi Sibanda maintains that whilst Chitambo was present at the press conference, it was other full time union leaders that spoke to journalists. 

The press conference was held because ZESA refused to implement an arbitration award increasing wages saying that the company was in a precarious financial position. ZEWU had every right to publicly speak on ZESA’s financial position, given that workers have to bear the burden of this.  

Whilst the charges brought against Chitambo are baseless, given her silence at the press conference, their absurdity is a clear indication of victimisation. One such charge is the allegation that Chitambo threatened to switch off the nation’s power, which ZESA says would have resulted in negative economic repercussions. Clearly the alleged threat had no negative consequence, making its inclusion as a charge against Chitambo highly questionable.

ZEWU is following the correct protocol by taking up Chitambo’s dismissal with ZESA first but is prepared to go to the labour court on this matter. “This kind of arrogance and disregard for the rule of law cannot be tolerated,” said Sibanda. “Our contention is that the President ought to be given an opportunity to be heard in a fair manner before a tribunal can come up with a verdict.”

IndustriALL affiliated energy industry unions in Southern Africa are conducting solidarity efforts through pressuring their utilities and Southern Africa Power Pool, to urge them to address this issue and other labour rights violations with ZESA.

Support the LabourStart ZEWU campaign here.