30 August, 2012ZESA continues in its effort to have the electricity workers abandon their wage increases in exchange for the reinstatement of suspended workers, despite an order from the Minister of Energy for ZESA to uphold the arbitration award granting the increase.
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135 electricity workers were suspended on 17 July without pay and benefits on charges of a threatened strike when the state-owned utility, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), claimed that it could not afford to pay workers the wage increase.
ZESA is pressurising the Zimbabwean Electricity Union (ZEWU) to set aside the arbitration award and start up a new arbitration process for wage increases. For the abandonment of the award, the company is offering to reinstate workers without back pay for lost wages and benefits. ZESA also proposes 12 month final warning for the President of ZEWU, Angeline Chitambo, who also an executive member of IndustriALL, and two other office bearers that have also been suspended by the company, amounting to a gag order on elected officials of ZEWU.
At the company hearing for Chitambo on 28 August, the union requested that her case also be heard outside of ZESA, as management seems determined to use her reinstatement as a bargaining chip to force ZEWU to relinquish the wage award, and on terms that will undermine her ability to carry out her leadership duties in ZEWU.
Meanwhile, the regional offices of ZESA have begun holding hearings on the suspensions and 45 workers have been found not guilty and reinstated with pay and benefits.
Of the workers that remain suspended, about 70 are in the northern region, where the hearings for 3 workers have taken place and resulted in their dismissal. The union is challenging the dismissals and is asking that the hearings for suspended workers this region be shifted to the labour court based on claims that management in the region is not following the law.
South African affiliates, the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, have each sent an experienced shop steward from South Africa’s utility, Eskom, to Zimbabwe on a mission to provide solidarity support to ZEWU. They have been assisting the union with developing strategies to engage with ZESA and also carrying messages of solidarity to suspended workers.
ZEWU is very grateful for all the support that they have received from affiliates of IndustriALL. “Thank you for coming our way with assistance, you are strengthening us to take on ZESA, which is not easy as they are putting demand after demand,” says Chitambo.
“But with your solidarity, we have proved to ZESA that workers all over the world are behind us and we can win what is rightfully ours.”