The Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) is expected to cough millions of kwacha after over 200 employees fired from the tax body in 2010 over restructuring won their case.
The Industrial Relations Court (IRC) ruled last week in Blantyre that MRA’s decision to terminate services of the concerned former employees was unilateral, unfair and without due process of consultations as the law demands.
The court, which found that there was hardly disclosure of information by the employer to the employees, said while reinstatement was automatic where employment is terminated on grounds of discrimination, it appeared in this matter that it would not be practical to order reinstatement because of the employee/employer relationship.
Presiding IRC deputy chairperson Jack N’riva, therefore, said on an appointed date, the court will consider compensation to the fired employees.
“As the matter has taken long, we direct the registry of the court to set down the matter as a matter of urgency.
“We find that the applicants’ respective dismissals were unfair. We do not find that there was any attempt to reach a consensus…But most importantly, the employees were not afforded an opportunity to make representations
“Apart from that, we are at a loss as to the selection criteria that the respondent used as regards the applicants in declaring them liable for retrenchment,” the IRC deputy chairperson said.
N’riva said the carrying out of consultation is rooted in international law applicable in Malawi and failure to carry that out trickles down to the accusation of unfair dismissal because consultations are a practical and legal aspect of procedural fairness of the dismissal.
The MRA, represented by private practice lawyer Patrice Nkhono, had argued earlier that there were consultations on restructuring.
MRA’s witnesses had also testified that recommendations from consultants, Ernst & Young, was that the tax collecting body must downsize from the initial structure of 1 465 to 870.
The witnesses said after restructuring, MRA provided the members of staff with repatriation at a cost of the farthest point in Malawi, adding the retrenched employees were paid leave days and notice pay.
But MRA admitted that during the purported consultations, employees were told that no one would lose their jobs, arguing if the employees knew they would be affected, they would have been unwilling to collect tax and taxpayers unwilling to pay.
The fired employees, who were represented by lawyer Noel Chalamanda, commenced the court action, claiming unfair dismissal, withheld terminal benefits, non-payment of pension benefits, severance pay, bonuses and house allowance, non-payment of arrears in salary increment and non-payment of leave days.
The matter, however, dwelt much on the issues of unfair dismissal.
MRA between 2009 and 2010 retrenched 215 employees, but 210 sued for unfair dismissal.
As N’riva delivered the ruling last week, he reprimanded some former MRA employees for issuing an anonymous letter to MRA lawyer Nkhono, threatening him that he would be bewitched for delaying the case.
The IRC deputy chairperson condemned such acts in strongest terms, arguing both sides contributed to the delay of the case.