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MIDAS in compensation dispute

THUSO MOSABALA

Five sacked workers of the Lesotho Motor Clinic are up in arms demanding half-a-million Maluti compensation over what they call unfair retrenchment from the automotive company in May this year.

The disgruntled former staffers, whose first step was to approach the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) before their case was referred to the Labour Court earlier this year, want a total of M547, 049.12 in benefits.

They argue they could have worked for the company until the required retirement age of 60 years had their employment not been unfairly tempered.

MIDAS, as the company is better known, had dismissed a total of nine employees on May 24 on grounds “the company is experiencing financial crisis.”

But the ex-workers rubbished of the claim in an interview with the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism, labelling the move by the company a guised witch-hunt against long service employees whose retirement would come with better packages.

The disgruntled five have different employment service with MIDAS ranging from five to 19 years.

Incorporated on August 16, 1989, MIDAS has operated at Borokhoaneng in Maseru, specialising in maintenance and repair of motor vehicles; sale of motor parts and accessories for the past 29 years.

The Centre has seen a copy of a letter endorsed by the company’s Managing Director Li Huang dated March 6, 2018 and addressed to staff about restructuring of MIDAS.

“For several months the company has experienced financial difficulties due to current competition in regard to new upcoming spare shops and over stocking of redundant stock hence we have come to a solution to restructure and eliminate some positions,” Huang noted.

He said management had come to conclusion “after we have explored many options including the introduction of new products to replace those made obsolete; but unfortunately, our efforts did not result in increase in our sales, hence we need to restructure the whole company and unfortunately eliminate some positions.”

MIDAS therefore invited all staff to reapply for positions they felt they could perform better on to assist the company out of the crisis.

“We therefore request all staff members who are willing to write motivational letters with a strategic plan, for the positions they see fit to rescue the company to do so by the 23-03-2018,” Huang noted further. But this did not sound good to the ears of the long service staffers.

Speaking to the Centre on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, the workers’ representatives said they had voiced their concern over the letter’s requirements.

“We told the human resource manager that we did not understand what was demanded of us since we still considered ourselves employees and we had not even received our benefits,” a representative said.

Since they registered their concern with management, the workers said they had a legitimate expectation the management would address them, “but that didn’t happen until the deadline stipulated by the latter.”

The Centre has learnt that as a result of late tendering of applications by the discontented employees, they were informed by the management that they no longer had a place in the “new era” that the company was entering, as noted in the letter dated March 24, 2018.

“As you are aware that the company requested you to re-apply and you decided to apply late at your own discretion, the company will call you for interview when your application has been re-looked into in future. Meantime you shall be at home and your last day at work is 30th April 2018.”

The same letter continued that with effect from May 2, Midas “will be entering into a New Era and you are therefore kindly informed that you have no place until your application is successful”.

The said employees were later served with retrenchment letters dated the same March 24.

“Following everything else that was done including various exercises to rescue the company out of financial crisis that which it has been experiencing from 2016…You failed to give a strategy in your application letter which was the main concern in this regard and therefore the company had to make a crucial decision that will benefit both by retrenching you.”

Left in the lurch, the employees approached the DDPR.

The Centre saw documents referring the matter to the Labour Court on grounds MIDAS failed to show in defence before the DDPR for conciliation proceedings.

Meanwhile, the workers have dismissed claims of financial crisis citing that MIDAS had managed to acquire sites in Maseru and extended branch in Bloemfontein, South Africa this year.

They argue it was “unreasonable” for MIDAS to have said that all “redundant” positions would be eliminated, “while we understand that what they did was to eliminate people and not the positions, to our surprise.”

Contacted for comment on October 20, Huang, who was apparently on an international trip, referred the Centre to Human Resource Officer Bonang Rathobei, saying “I am not good at these things, and I really don’t know how to comment”.

She further professed ignorance of the developments claiming Rathobei had instituted them unilaterally. But pressed that she has been in charge of the situation as some of the letters bore her signature, she requested for more time to discuss with Rathobei.

On the agreed dates, she avoided commenting, saying, “I discussed the matter with our HR and she will give you full response”.

However, Rathobei who acknowledged receipt of the Centre’s questions from her boss, played the same game.

“I have nothing to say because this matter is before the DDPR; beside I am not the appropriate person to respond especially when you also wanted to know about sites,” Rathobei said.

At the height of this feud, the Centre has learnt MIDAS has court two of the five disgruntled ex-staffers back on duty.

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