Rita Makarau in Another Landmark Ruling
The Supreme Court has ordered employers in the timber sector to pay the minimum wage of US$150 to workers.
In its application, the Timber Sector Employers’ Association had initially wanted the court to reduce the minimum wage from US$150 to US$105. This was to challenge a ruling at arbitration which had upheld that the minimum wage in the sector remain at US$150. The employers had wanted to continue paying US$105 which they had paid when they were exempted from paying the agreed minimum wage of US$150 for a six-month period. However, Gapwuz contested the position, resulting in the two parties going to arbitration.
However, in their heads of argument, the employers changed position and argued that since the award was borne out of compulsory arbitration and not voluntary arbitration, the award by the arbitrator was null and void. The collective bargaining agreement between the two parties of US$150 is constituted in Statutory Instrument 55 of 2013.
In the judgment, Justices Rita Makarau, Benjamin Gowero and Francis Bere ruled that the appeal succeeds and set aside the arbitral award of October 2015.
According to the interpretation by Gapwuz lawyers, Mabundu & Ndlovu Law Chambers, the judgement only set aside the arbitration award but did not reduce the minimum wage as the court does not have the power to do so.
“All employers who are paying below the minimum wage without being exempted are guilty of underpaying employees and the union (Gapwuz) can sue the employers on behalf of their members for underpayments,” the lawyers said.
Gapwuz acting general secretary Golden Magwaza told businessdigest when they won the wage dispute at arbitration that the ruling was a vindication of their fight for workers in the timber sector.
“We are very happy with this ruling because we have fighting for workers to get this minimum wage since 2012,” Magwaza said.
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