BALLANTYNE BUTCHERY (PRIVATE) LIMITED
EDMORE CHISVINGA & OTHERS
SUPREME COURT OF ZIMBABWE
GWAUNZA JA, GARWE JA & PATEL JA
HARARE, FEBRUARY 24, 2014 & FEBRUARY 26, 2015
A. Mugandiwa, for the appellant
D. Mwonzora, for the respondent
PATEL JA: This appeal arises from the application of two retrenchment agreements that were entered into between the parties on 23 January 2009. The first agreement stipulated the payment of specified terminal benefits, while the second provided for various payments in kind, i.e. fuel coupons and pork bones. The latter package was duly paid out and accepted without controversy. The dispute in casu relates to the first agreement.
The appellant paid out the first retrenchment package in Zimbabwe Dollars on 13 February 2009, following the introduction of the multi-currency regime on 2 February 2009. Some four months later, on 16 June 2009, the respondents applied to a labour officer for the enforcement of their retrenchment benefits. Following the failure to settle the matter, it was referred to arbitration on 9 July 2009.
The arbitrator found that the appellant had wrongfully paid the package with unusable Zimbabwe Dollar currency that had become defunct with effect from 3 February 2009. The appellant was accordingly ordered to recalculate the retrenchment package in the correct multiple currency of South African Rands or United States Dollars and to deposit the recalculated amounts into the respondents’ bank accounts.
On appeal against this award, the Labour Court found that the delay of several months in enforcing the retrenchment package was not inordinate and that the respondents had not waived their rights. The arbitrator was entitled to hear further evidence to supplement the agreement as to when the packages were to be paid. There was no need for the respondents to make a specific claim for damages as the appellant had committed an unfair labour practice. The relief sought, i.e. payment in currency other than that agreed, was not incompetent and the arbitrator did not thereby rewrite the contract for the parties.
In effect, the court found that the arbitrator had not exceeded his terms of reference and had, in accordance with equity, correctly awarded payment in acceptable as opposed to valueless currency. Consequently, the retrenchment package was confirmed for payment in United States Dollars at a rate of conversion to be agreed between the parties or, failing such agreement, to be determined by the court. The appellant was also ordered to pay the respondents’ costs.
The grounds of appeal herein are manifold, with most of them being tangential to the crux of the matter, and not having been pursued during the course of argument at the hearing of the appeal. In essence, the principal issue to be addressed is whether or not the arbitrator exceeded his terms of reference and thereby arrived at the wrong conclusions. Flowing from this is the correctness or otherwise of the decision of the Labour Court in upholding the arbitrator’s award.