HARARE – A labour dispute is raging between the country’s largest tea producer Eastern Highlands Plantations Limited and its former employees, who were sacked after an industrial action that destroyed property worth millions of dollars in 2001.
Eastern Highlands Plantations Limited has filed a Supreme Court appeal after a Labour Court president referred the matter back to an arbitrator, for fresh hearing of the facts.
This was after Farai Mapeto and 136 others challenged their dismissal.
However, the plantation, through its lawyer Trust Maanda, said the Labour Court should not have remitted the matter back to an arbitrator, but instead should have dealt with the case.
“In so doing, the honourable president erred. The error lay more particularly in that the honourable president failed to determine the matter before him on the merits when he could have done so,” Maanda said in his heads of argument.
He further said the employees embarked on a violent industrial action between October and November 2001, adding the strike was illegal.
He said the employees were charged for, “wilful and unlawful destruction of property” and absence from work for more than five days without giving reasonable cause.
Maanda said the plantation had proved that the employees were guilty.
“Having found that the offence has been proved and that the offence was a dismissible offence, the honourable president ought to have confirmed the dismissal rather than remit for a reconsideration of a case which has been proved,” Maanda said.
He further said the Labour Court president erred in that he treated the sacking of the workers as a “blanket” dismissal, yet the employees were charged individually.
However, the appeal could not be heard yesterday, after the employees’ lawyer failed to pitch up.
Tony Mupandura, one of the employees present, yesterday told the court he came to court expecting his lawyer would be present.
The lawyer’s absence forced Supreme Court judges Paddington Garwe, Bharat Patel and Anne-Marie Gowora to postpone the matter indefinitely.