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Parliamentary Roundup Bulletin No. 16 – 2011
Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust
April 15, 2011

Introduction

The Senate and House of Assembly are on recess until 10 May and 17 May, respectively. Committees are taking their break today and will resume business on 9 May 2011. Below are highlights of some of the activities of committees during the week under review.

Highlights of Committee Activities

Portfolio Committee on Transport

The Committee received oral evidence from Air Zimbabwe management and representatives of Air Zimbabwe pilots on the industrial action taken by the pilots, which has virtually grounded Air Zimbabwe flights.

In his prepared remarks, the Acting CEO informed the Committee that the industrial action was a legacy issue that predated the introduction of the multi-currency regime in Zimbabwe. The Committee heard that sometime in 2003, the pilots embarked on an industrial action that was resolved by the introduction of retention allowances that were payable in US Dollars. These allowances have been increased four times with the last round of increases having occurred in September 2010. However, the Acting CEO was quick to point out that the retention allowances were introduced and the subsequent revisions arrived at under duress: the pilots went on industrial action to arm twist management into getting what they wanted. The Committee heard that at no point was the airline’s ability to pay the increments ever considered.

In September 2010, after the pilots had gone on an industrial action, the Transport Ministry brokered a deal under which the pilots would be paid 50% of what was due to them in September, while the remaining was to be paid by March 21, 2011. However, Air Zimbabwe was only able to pay 42% of the 50% that was to be paid in September. The national airline failed to pay the 50% due on March 21, 2011, which prompted the strike. The anticipation had been that the airline would have generated enough money to pay the pilots what was due to them. However, the airline incurred losses - US$3.5 million in January and US$4 million in February - that the Acting CEO blamed on the industrial action and the depressed passenger volumes since the airline’s reliability was now open to question by passengers and its image tarnished by the incessant industrial action.

The Committee also heard that several unsuccessful attempts were made by the airline management, the Chairperson of the Air Zimbabwe Board and the Permanent Secretary to persuade the pilots to go back to work. The Acting CEO also stated that three unsuccessful conciliatory hearings were held before the matter was referred to the Labour Minister and, subsequently, to the Labour Court whose show cause order and ruling, respectively, were ignored by the pilots. The Committee heard that the pilots had since applied for leave to appeal. The airline’s Company Secretary told the Committee that the strike was illegal as the pilots had not given the 14-day notice required by the Labour Act and had not followed the procedure for resolving disputes of right as laid down in the Act. The Acting CEO informed the Committee that Air Zimbabwe management believed that the airline should live within its means and pay the pilots what the airline can afford.

When asked if the pilots’ salaries and retention allowances were the major issue affecting Air Zimbabwe’s viability, the Acting CEO indicated that all the problems facing the airline were traceable back the need to recapitalize the airline and possibly look for a reliable partner. The Committee also heard that the airline was operating old planes that were expensive to run and maintain. The Acting CEO also blamed the former management for making promises that the airline couldn’t keep. He informed the Committee that the September 2010 agreement was reached at the Ministerial level after the airline had decided to take a firmer stance with the pilots that had been the case with the previous management. The Acting CEO also took the opportunity to dispel media reports that the airline had received money from the parent Ministry for retrenchment packages. He also informed the Committee that the former CEO hadn’t received any termination benefits.

On their part, the pilots insisted that they had embarked on the industrial action because the airline had broken the promise made to them. They also insisted that remuneration wasn’t the only reason that led to the industrial action. Instead, the pilots referred to a number of issues that the industrial action seeks to bring to the fore, among others;

  • The national airline is over staffed compared to industry standards and guidelines from international bodies on HR factors,
  • High turnover of experienced key personnel due to lack of retention packages and appropriate industry based remuneration,
  • A management style that doesn’t consider employee involvement in decision making,
  • Unmerited promotions that were perpetuating corruption and unprofessionalism,
  • Lack of transparency and poor strategic thinking from management,
  • A retrenchment policy that was not always based on an individual’s performance,
  • A demoralized, marginalized and victimized workforce,
  • The lack of members with aviation expertise on the airline board, and
  • Mismanagement of resources and financial indiscipline, among other things.

As solutions to the airline’s problems, the pilots suggested the following measures;

  • A skills audit was needed to weed out incompetent and excess staff while the airline looks into including employees in the making of key decisions,
  • The MA60 accident inquiry report released and examined by the Committee as it highlighted malpractices at the airline,
  • The airline should make more effective use of the “national advantage” that the airline enjoys as well as the political protection and monopoly that it enjoys,
  • The airline should fly the routes that it stopped flying to in order to generate more revenue,
  • The airline should look into leasing planes in the interim until the nation can afford to replace the airline’s fleet,
  • The airline should resuscitate the sub-units in its engineering division to provide services to other countries and to even train cabin crew and pilots as Ethiopian Airways had done,
  • The airline should venture into the lucrative cargo carrying business, and
  • The National Handling Service should be allowed to run autonomously. The pilots expressed their commitment to the airline and to its return to being a viable business entity.

Thematic Committee on Human Rights

The Thematic Committee embarked on fact-finding visits to Mutare Central Prison, Mutimurefu Prison (Masvingo) and Whawha Prison to assess the conditions under which the prisoners were kept. The fact-finding visit was an eye-opener to Senators as they witnessed for themselves the deplorable and inhumane prison conditions. Below are some of the common highlights of the Committee’s findings;

  • uninhabitable conditions characterized by overcrowding and dilapidated infrastructure,
  • Plight of inmates with HIV and AIDS,
  • Erratic water supply,
  • Inadequate food provisions and poor diet,
  • Plight of Children of inmates,
  • Tattered uniforms and bed linen and
  • Shortage of learning materials (e.g. textbooks etc)

The Mutare Central Prison also houses refugees from five different countries including the DRC, Ivory Coast and Congo. These refugees asked Committee Members to talk to their embassies so that they could be returned to their home countries. The Committee also heard that a number of people have been on remand for a long time. The prison officials cited fuel and transport constraints as some of the reasons for the delay in getting the prisoners to court. In addition, the Committee heard that the prison also houses some mentally ill inmates.

In Whawha Prison, the Committee heard that the prison housed mainly minors under the age of 20 from all over the country. Some of inmates were arrested and imprisoned without birth certificates and, hence, did not have identity cards. Some of their relatives haven’t bothered to visit the inmates to help them obtain birth certificates.
Whawha prison has a school where the minors are taught from form 1- 6. However, the inmates complained that they were not getting adequate exam fees to enable them to sit for all their exams at once. As a result, most of them had to sit four times, which they said was prejudicial to them when they were eventually released from prison as employers preferred candidates who have only written their exams in one or two sittings. In addition, the inmates complained that their criminal records prevented them from being hired to work in the public service when they left prison even if they had reformed.

The Committee also heard that the prison also offers courses on building, agriculture, mechanics welding and carpentry among others. This has enabled inmates at the prison to compete with other companies for tenders to do certain jobs. An example is a tender won by the inmates for a construction project at Munene School. However, the Committee also heard that the prison hadn’t issued certificates to some inmates who had completed the offered courses as they did not have either IDs or birth certificates. The money the inmates get from the tenders they would have won goes to the headquarters rather than the inmates themselves.

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