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Pie City Ex-Employees In Contractual Impasse

CHAKALISA DUBE
Pie City Botswana operations manager Paul Mass
FRANCISTOWN: Former Pie City employees, who were dismissed by the company recently, have now come out strongly accusing their former employer of gross exploitation.

Pie City is one of the country’s biggest producers of flour-based food such as bread and pies. Some of the former employees who worked at the company’s facility at the Light Industrial site allege that they have been working on monthly contracts for a notable number of years.

Over 20 employees were dismissed or had their monthly contracts not renewed recently. Over 10 employees were said to be on contracts.

Some employees have been working on monthly contracts for over four years. Without guarantee of continued income, the former employees who worked on a contract basis said they were not able to plan around their lives accordingly. They argue that monthly contracts were intended to make it easy to get rid of them because the law does not adequately protect fixed-term contract employees.

The Monitor has learnt that prior to their mass dismissals the employees had written to the Francistown District Labour office demanding that the latter should come and carryout an inspection on a number of issues at the company (Pie City). In the letter, employees demanded that they be assisted to clear confusion around wages. They alleged that the company does not remunerate them at the agreed rate. Employees also complained about the deduction of their leave days something, which they said was done arbitrarily. Some of the former employees speaking on condition of anonymity believe that the move to get rid of them was a strategic one aimed at purging those who were voicing out exploitation. On the other hand, the Pie City operations director Paul Maas has informed The Monitor that those who were dismissed or had their contracts terminated recently, “had flouted company procedures in various ways”. While labour law expert, attorney Mboki Chilisa said the Employment Act does not prohibit the renewal of contracts on a monthly basis for a significant period of time though various labour experts have often condemned the practice.

“Fixed-term employees are not adequately protected under the Employment Act,” Chilisa said.

Chilisa boasts vast experience in Employment Law, Commercial and Property Law as well as Administrative and Constitutional Law.

Revelations at Pie City come at a time when local trade unions have also waged a

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war against a growing trend where companies offer their employees insecure, vulnerable and low quality employment. Trade unions argue that renewing employee contracts on a monthly basis for longer periods of time lead to limited access to social protection, which does not allow workers to have a decent working and private life. Speaking to The Monitor, Maas attempted to put the blame squarely on the previous manager, saying that the company head office was not aware that employees work on a monthly contract.

But in a follow-up questionnaire sent to him, Maas did not directly respond when The Monitor demanded to know why the blame would be directed to the past immediate manager who had joined the company in late 2014, when the hiring arrangement was already in place.

Authoritative sources at Pie City have told The Monitor that employees renew their contracts on the 20th of each month. The manager then sends the contracts to head office in Gaborone.

“We are prepared to meet with the employees in the presence of labour officials so that issues can be resolved properly as well as other issues that are related to staff and not deal with these issues through the media as this is not the correct forum. There are still pending labour issues with some staff and this is the other reason we will not deal with these issues through the media,” Maas told The Monitor when asked to address allegations levelled against the company.

“We have great faith in the labour system in Botswana, as well as other law-making institutions, and we always endeavour to adhere to the laws of Botswana. We engage with the labour department on a regular basis, often at our own request and try and resolve matters and ensure the correct procedures are followed. This will not change, and we look forward to resolving these matters amicably. We will welcome the opportunity to consult with affected staff and labour department representatives, if requested to do so by labour department.”

The Monitor has been reliably informed that Pie City management will meet the former employees on Thursday, in order for the two parties to resolve their dispute.



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