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MIDAS in compensation dispute

Thuso Mosabala

FIVE workers who were dismissed by the Lesotho Motor Clinic are up in arms with company demanding a combined M500 000 as compensation for unfair dismissal 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 terminated.

Commonly referred to as MIDAS, Lesotho Motor Clinic had dismissed a total of nine employees on May 24 on the grounds that “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 disguised witch-hunt against long-serving employees whose retirement would come with better financial packages.

The five dismissed workers have employment services with the company ranging from five to 19 years.

Incorporated on 16 August 1989, MIDAS has operated at Borokhoaneng in Maseru, specialising in the 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 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 states in the letter dated 6 March 2018.

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

“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 March 2018,” Huang further states in the letter. However, the directive to reapply for their positions did not sit well with long-serving workers.

Speaking to the Centre on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, the workers’ representatives said they had voiced their concerns over the company’s plans.

“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 that the management would address them, “but that didn’t happen until the expiry of the deadline (for them to reapply for their positions).”

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 five employees were later served with retrenchment letters also dated 24 March.

“Following everything else that was done including various exercises to rescue the company out of the financial crisis that it has been experiencing from 2016…you failed to give a strategy in your application letter and therefore the company had to make a crucial decision that will benefit both (itself and the workers) by retrenching you,” part if the retrenchment letters state.

Left in the lurch, the employees approached the DDPR.

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

The workers have also dismissed claims of financial crisis, saying that MIDAS had in fact acquired land in Maseru and extended its branch in Bloemfontein this year.

Contacted for comment, 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”.

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. Besides I am not the appropriate person to respond especially when you also want to know about sites (MIDAS is said to have acquired),” Rathobei said.

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