Government is facing a legal backlash after a string of class action lawsuits have been launched in connection with its decision to introduce multiple grading and tilting of all positions in the C-Band in the public service.
In one of the class action lawsuits led by one Save Andreas Pheresu Sefore on behalf of 175 others alleges that in 2001 Government issued a directive whose objective was among others to allow for direct appointment of graduates with the appropriate academic qualifications at entry level but without experience.
It was also aimed at facilitating faster progression of serving officers who qualify for promotion with the need for Ministries to request for additional posts or resources.
Mbikiwa Legal Practice which is representing the aggrieved employees state that they were absorbed into the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security on different dates in the years preceding the promulgation of the directive in 2001 and others in years following the directive.
The attorneys state that the directive was addressed to all Ministries and therefore it is also applicable to the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs and by extension to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security inclusive.
According to court papers, in 2008, the Government realised that Ministries were not complying with the 2001 directive. In an effort to compel Ministries to comply with the directive, the Government issued another directive in terms of which it gave ultimatums to the non-compliant Ministries and clarified the provisions and of the 2001 directive.
Mbikiwa Legal Practice states that some of its clients joined the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security at C3 level hence the multi grading and tilting directive were relevant to them. Those who joined the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security at B Band were eventually elevated to the C-Band thereby becoming eligible to benefit from the 2001 directive, the lawyers said.
“Despite Plaintiffs’ eligible to benefit from the Directive, the Second Defendant (Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security) failed to implement the 2001 Directive and or extend its application to the Plaintiffs,” the lawyers said.
They added that “The Second Defendant’s failure in this regard adversely affected the Plaintiffs’ progression and undermined the Governmental objectives sought to be achieved through the aforesaid directive.”
The lawyers also added that the detriment by its clients was to the extent that found themselves stuck in the C3 level for more than 5 years without progression whilst their counterpart in their counterparts in other departments falling under the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security benefitted from the implementation of the directive. This differentiation, the lawyers, constitutes discrimination.
“The Second Defendant has made an undertaking to pay the Plaintiffs their salary arreas. Despite an undertaking made in May 2016, nothing has been done sop far regarding the payment of salary arrears. Nothing has been said about placing the Plaintiffs in position or scales they would have been occupying had the 2001 directive been properly applied in their favour,” Mbikiwa Legal Practice said.
The lawyers further stated that the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security has implemented the provisions of the directive in favour of other officers within the Ministry who are similarly circumstanced as their clients constitute discrimination and amounts to infringement of their rights.
The class action lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security employees is not the first lawsuits. A 2013 lawsuit by Government employees against the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning who are holders of a Diploma Accounting Business Studies claimed that the 2001 directive by Government reduced progression period required from three years to two years.
They also argued that they were entitled to automatic progression in rank and remuneration every two years effective retrospectively from the date of the implementation of the 2001 directive. In 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court which had dismissed the case.