Within four weeks of a court ruling that has made it easier for companies to fire employees in Zimbabwe, a reported 20,000 workers have joined the ranks of the unemployed, prompting president Robert Mugabe to promise a new labor law that would prevent mass job losses in the country.
Speaking yesterday at a national Heroes Day rally in Harare, Mugabe quoted from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist in describing his discontent with the court ruling’s effects in a country battling with a touch economic climate and an unemployment rate reported to be around 11% (pdf, p. 41) but estimated by some at 60% or even higher.
“As I said the law can disadvantage us…the law is an ass; I think that part of our law is a stupid ass,” Mugabe said.
But while his government regretted the ruling, Mugabe said he would not use his presidential powers to override it. Instead, he said, a new labor law will prevent employers from using the legal precedent to arbitrarily fire workers in order to maximize profits.
The landmark court ruling, issued last month, allows employers to fire employees at any time without severance packages, provided that they’re given three months’ notice. As TechZim reports, many Zimbabwean businesses in labor-intensive sectors are under strain, and though the cost of labor is one of their largest expenses, firms often were reluctant to terminate workers’ contracts, as this would have meant paying severance and in some cases negotiating with trade unions for mass retrenchments. The court ruling relieves them of that burden.
“We will make sure that there would be fairness; fairness, yes, on the part of the employers because they must be served by honest people, sincere people, hard-working people, but also fairness that they shall not just dismiss workers anyhow because they want to widen their margins of profits—no, no, that we say no to it. We will protect workers, workers legally,” Mugabe said.