With Zimbabwe's economy in the doldrums and showing no prospects of recovering any time soon, State media organisations – the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and Zimpapers, the publishers of The Herald, the Sunday Mail and the Chronicle newspapers – are retrenching hundreds of their staff.
This is despite the fact that they have over the past few weeks been leading a crusade against scores of other companies, including media organisations, that have recently right-sized their operations in the worsening economic climate.
Zimpapers moved to lay off dozens of journalists and other support staff on Friday, in an exercise that insiders said could see up to 150 staff members losing their jobs by the end of this week.
The company's newly-appointed chief executive, Pikirayi Deketeke, confirmed the retrenchments last night, but declined to give the exact numbers of those affected.
"I am in Jo'burg at the moment, but what is affecting the rest … is the same," he said candidly.
Some of the affected Zimpapers journalists include Sydney Kawadza, Brenda Phiri, Fortious Nhambura, Mbachi Mutukula Maregera, Blackmore Mavhura and Augustine Hwata.
A letter that was written to the workers by the company cited the recent Supreme Court judgement as the basis for the dismissals.
"This letter serves to inform you that Zimpapers (1980 limited) has decided to terminate your employment contract on notice. The group has passed a decision to exercise its rights under common law which allows either party to terminate the employment contract on notice. In accordance with the provisions of section 12 (4) of the labour Act, we hereby give you three months' notice to terminate your contract of employment.
"The notice shall start to run on delivery of this letter, or to the domicilium that you choose under your employment contract or such other address notified to human resources department at your branch by you in writing," it read.
The fired workers were told not to report for duty forthwith.
On the other hand state controlled broadcaster ZBC has moved to fire its four top officials — suspended chief executive officer Happison Muchechetere, former General Manager (Finance) Elliot Kasu, ex-General Manager (Radio Services) Allan Chiweshe, and Head (Finance) Ralph Nyambudzi using the same ruling.
It was also understood that up to 400 other ZBC could face the chop by month-end, although the corporation's spokesperson, Gladman Bandama, disputed this.
"At the moment there is no official position on whether we will be retrenching. Though there is no communication, 400 people will be too many to retrench," Bandama said.
A fired Chronicle staffer had no kind words for the state-owned media house.
"We are very angry about all this and the sickening hypocrisy that our bosses have displayed. We all thought that we were safe because for weeks we were under pressure and at the forefront of writing nasty stories about other companies that have retrenched. Now this. It is now clear that we were being used to serve the political interests of our bosses and their handlers, not realising that the retrenchments here would be more widespread and severe than at other media houses," a miffed Chronicle staffer said last night.
Virtually all the country's media organisations have now trimmed their workforce as Zimbabwe's economic crisis continues to deepen.
For Zimpapers and Alpha Media Holdings — the publishers of Newsday, the Standard and the Zimbabwe Independent — this is the second time in two years that they have embarked on retrenchments.
Over twenty thousand formal sector workers have lost their jobs over the past few weeks following the recent confirmation by the Supreme Court that employers, just like employees, could terminate employment contracts on three months' notice.
Other entities which have recently cut staff numbers include parastatals such as the National Railways of Zimbabwe, Air Zimbabwe, the Grain Marketing Board, the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe National Road Administration, as well as private sector companies like Croco Motors, Econet Wireless, Moonlight Funeral Services, Sino Zimbabwe, Steward Bank, Unilever Zimbabwe, Choppies, TN Holdings and Medtech.