The controversial case of evictions at a Norton tobacco firm took a new twist on Monday as the employer raised a red flag over an allegedly incorrect citation.
Norton District Tobacco Warehouse (Pvt) Ltd is seeking an order to evict several residents from its premises on the grounds that they have no legal right to be there as they are not employees of the company.
Among those targeted are a group of former workers who were dismissed for allegedly leading a collection job action at the company in 2020. These are Swapi Swapi, Charles Masiye, Bernard Paya, Sign Chikwenembe and Blessing Box.
Box has since been forcibly evicted by the Messenger of Court pursuant to a relief granted to Norton District Tobacco Warehouse (Pvt) Ltd by Norton magistrate Catherine Nyandoro on 7 July 2021.
In his founding affidavit signed on 1 June 2021 and filed for the matter against Box, company director Adam James Hartnack had stated that Box “is not employed by the plaintiff or by the Plaintiff’s sister company, Norton Tobacco Graders”.
That and other facts used against Box are duplicated in the applications in respect of the other workers.
Just over a month after the courts okayed Box’s eviction, she and her colleagues believe they have obtained some relief at the National Employment Council (NEC) for the Tobacco Industry. In its determination of the labour dispute brought before it, the NEC provides ammunition for a twist.
“The failure by the Respondent to engage Swapi Swapi, Charles Masiye, Bernard Paya, Sign Chikwenembe and Blessing Box was an act of victimization of the members of the Worker’s Committee for allegedly instigating other employees at the workplace to engage in collective job action in 2020. They were therefore unfairly dismissed in terms of section 12B(3)(b) of the Act and should be reinstated without loss of salary and benefits for the duration of the 2021 season or alternatively be paid damages in lieu of reinstatement if reinstatement has become untenable”, reads the NEC determination, delivered on 19 August 2021.
While Box has since been evicted and is now squatting on state land just across the road from the company premises, her colleagues are seeking to show cause why the relief sought by their employer should not be granted, with their lawyer Albert Nyamufukudza set to argue that the company is seeking to use evictions to preempt a legitimate finding that it must reinstate the workers as they were unfairly dismissed in contravention of the country’s labour laws.
On Monday, the company lawyers Honey & Blackenberg raised the issue of wrong citation from the angle that the company referred to in the NEC determination, Norton Tobacco Graders, is not the same as the Norton District Tobacco Warehouse (Pvt) Ltd that is seeking relief to evict the defendants from its premises at Lydiate Siding, just outside Norton town along the Robert Gabriel Mugabe highway.
Magistrate Nyandoro is expected to deliver judgement on that in two weeks’ time.