Sifelani Tsiko Senior Writer
Zimbabwe today joins the world in commemorating the International Workers’ Day amid brighter prospects that the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) Bill, which seeks to confer powers and functions of the forum in relation to consultation, cooperation and negotiation on social and economic issues by Government, business and labour will create a better platform for dialogue on labour matters.
The Government has taken positive steps to show its commitment by gazetting the TNF Bill, which has taken a long time to develop.
Furthermore, TNF Bill has been tabled in the National Assembly and prospects are bright that it will sail through by end of May, in a development that will enhance the efficient settlement of disputes between labour and employers.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza is quite optimistic about the TNF Bill.
“We are quite excited about the TNF Bill. It is a step in the right direction and it is set to help both parties in the long run.
“The Bill has been outstanding for seven years and I hope that by the end of May, it will have passed through the National Assembly,” she was quoted saying.
“We have been trying to improve our relations with workers since the disturbances that took place in January such that we are now meeting regularly with both Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU).”
Dialogue between Government and labour has been a major priority for the Second Republic.
Improved relations between employers and workers are a vital component of economic growth and the prevention of conflicts that have in the past cost the country millions of dollars in lost production time, led to the loss of lives and damage of property.
It is heart-warming to learn that Minister Nzenza has already hammered a deal to meet every two weeks with unions to discuss pressing matters and iron out differences.
The going for the majority of poor workers is rough, especially after the sky rocketing of prices of basic commodities and services.
Earnings of the vast majority of workers have been deeply eroded and given the difficult economic circumstances we are in, its important for the Government, employers and labour to engage each other to prevent conflicts.
Legal experts and labour unions are all optimistic that the TNF Bill will sail through with minor or no amendments.
Among other things, Clause 3 of the Bill sets out the functions of the TNF, which is a body corporate capable of suing and being sued in its name.
The functions of the forum include consulting and negotiating over social and economic issues and submitting recommendations to Cabinet.
It will negotiate a social contract as and when necessary and foster cooperation of the tripartite constituents and consult other key stakeholders and contribute to the formulation and implementation of social and economic policies.
The TNF will also follow up and monitor implementation of agreements.
Government representatives to the forum will be appointed by the President, seven labour members nominated by labour and appointed by the line minister and seven business members.
There will be two observers drawn from the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe and the National Economic Consultative Forum.
Clause 4 of the Bill sets out the qualifications of members, among them that one should be a citizen or permanently resident in Zimbabwe, must not have been declared insolvent and should not have a criminal record.
Clause 5 stipulates that it is the preserve of each constituency to remove a member from the main TNF provided that the removal should not take effect before the expiry of 14 days from the date of notification.
Clause 8 stipulates that the agenda of the main TNF should be set by the management committee composed of representatives from the ministry responsible for labour, business as nominated by the respective principals.
Clause 10 provides that decisions of the main TNF shall be by consensus.
The decisions of the main TNF within the domain of socio-economic policy shall form recommendations to Cabinet.
Apart from this Bill, the Government must be lauded for availing its workers non-monetary benefits that are critical in enhancing their livelihoods besides giving them a salary.
To demonstrate its commitment, Government rolled out a $60 million housing facility for civil servants in the past few months.
Despite criticism from some quarters, this goes a long way in improving the conditions of service for workers through a major shift away from the traditional focus on salaries only.
Government is also keen to implement an all-round improvement of standards of living for workers through the provision of decent housing, quality health, productive education and a sustainable transport system among other demands.
What the Government has done must also be embraced by all other major corporates in the country to help meet the needs of workers in the private sector.
Upholding workers rights and improving their conditions of service can help the country to meet its Sustainable Development Goals on labour rights and job creation.
This, too, has a major bearing in the transformation of the country as it moves progressively towards becoming an upper middle income economy by 2030.
Problems facing workers are quite diverse and massive, given the rising prices and austerity measures being taken by Government and most companies.
As the country marks the Workers’ Day —all players — Government, private sector employers and labour should all take time to reflect and dialogue on the gravity of challenges confronting the country’s workers.
Prices are a major grievance and dialogue by all parties could help find some solutions to the pressing problems facing the workers.
Fuel price increases have also pushed up the cost of doing business in the country, with the worker bearing the brunt.
Workers are now demanding a pay rise given the erosion of their earnings at a time when most businesses are struggling to remain operational.
In a response to the plight of its workers, on April 1 this year, Government announced a RTGS$400 million cost of living adjustment allowance for civil servants.
The private sector too, needs to do the same to cushion workers from rising prices.
Apart from settling the workers’ demands for pay increases, the country must not lose sight of its: “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra.
Focus on attracting investment could also spur job creation and instil some hope in thousands of jobless people in the country.
Ever since President Mnangagwa assumed office, he has emphasised the need to attract foreign investment to create jobs and boost national economic growth.
His Government has since adopted a battery of measures to tweak archaic rules and operations that deter investment and job creation.
Furthermore, he has said he remained open to new ideas and views that could be actionable to boost job creation, investment and economic growth.
Through President Mnangagwa’s leadership, the country has scored major successes in attracting investment commitments running into billions of dollars.
All this is largely due to the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra and a culture that he is spearheading through a spirit of openness, honesty and hard work.
The thrust of his administration to press for transparency and accountability marks complete departure from the previous administration which was riddled with bureaucratic inefficiencies, corruption, lack of transparency and accountability — something which scarred potential investors.
Confidence has enveloped the business sector and charmed the international community to embrace Zimbabwe.
Scores of foreign investors are now trekking to the country to scout for business opportunities and expand their business interests — a move which is likely to create jobs and instil hope among the jobless people.
Handouts bring misery and poverty, while jobs bring dignity to people.
All efforts to create jobs must be promoted and given priority in the country.
But as the country moves to attract huge investments in various sectors, it must also ensure that it balances its appetite to create jobs with the need to create better conditions for its workers, with better wages, safe working conditions and union rights.