The Zimbabwean parliament has been told that the public has rejected the state dominance on labour discussion matters through the National Tripartite Forum (NTF), as the economic decline persist.

During the Second Reading of the Tripartite Negotiating Forum Bill, Minister of Labour, Sekai Nzenza said there was general agreement during public hearings regarding the bill, that the move to promote social dialogue on labour issues was indeed necessary, but issues were raised on state dominance, with the public saying government as an employer should not dominate the establishment.

“The Chairperson of the TNF shall be the Minister responsible for labour who is myself while the two co-chairs will revolve from organised business and organised labour.

“There is a technical committee whose Chairperson is the Deputy Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet,” said.

She told the House that the Bill also provides for a managerial committee comprised of members nominated from the three social partners; that is once again Government, organised business and labour.

In accordance with Section 141 of the Constitution, the Portfolio Committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare conducted public hearings on the TNF Bill from 25 February to 1 March 2019. The Committee conducted one public hearing in each province of the country.

However, it was also heard that public during public hearings opposed the dominance by the state.

“The dominance of Government on the TNF with 14 representatives against 7 each for business and labour was raised as an issue of contention,” stakeholders told the parliamentary committee, during the hearings.

Stakeholders such as the ZCTU noted that the Government was also an employer which will bring representation for this group to 21 if the number of its representatives is combined with that of business.

“This state of affairs places labour at a disadvantage as it only has 7 representatives, particularly when it comes to voting on pertinent issues by TNF members,” said ZCTU.

In addition, stakeholders in Mutare, Gweru, Gwanda and Bulawayo were opposed to the chairing of the TNF by a Government representative but preferred rotation of the leadership role amongst the three social partners.

Conversely, stakeholders who attended the public hearing conducted in Masvingo advanced that the TNF should be chaired by a retired Supreme Court Judge or an individual appointed by Parliament as opposed to a Government Representative.

“The Bill also seeks to realise the full potential of the TNF.  To date, the full potential of the TNF has not been realised due to the lack of legal framework to guide the engagement process and further compounded by the lack of mutual trust among the social partners.

“The TNF therefore, is convinced that the lack of a legislative framework is responsible for the implementation inertia which has characterised most of the resolutions of TNF. The promulgation of the Tripartite Negotiating Forum Act will bring in this binding nature of agreements made and ensure the efficient administration and functioning of the forum,” she presented to the House.

She added that it is the view of the parties that the resultant TNF Act, along with other measures will see the TNF emerging as a strong and vibrant institution capable of greater contribution to the development of the country.

“We are drawing international best practices from other jurisdictions that are ahead of us in this respect. The National Economic Development and Labour Convention (NEDLAC) of South Africa has demonstrated that legislation for social dialogue is beneficial to socio-economic development,” she added.

The principal purpose of TNF therefore, is to assist in finding solutions to social economic challenges facing the nation at any given time on tripartite basis.

The forum has since 1998 existed as a voluntary and unlegislated platform for social dialogue in Zimbabwe.  However, there is consensus among social partners that the gains made so far by the TNF and its potential utility to the socio-economic development of the country can be fully harnessed if it is underpinned by a strong legislative framework.  The call for the development of the TNF legislation resonates with the provisions of Section 65 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which recognises fair labour standards and the right to collective bargaining.  These have been identified as necessary guiding principles for effective social dialogue.

She said it was suffice to mention that the principles of social dialogue which embody the purpose of TNF are enshrined in the ILO Convention No. 144 of 1976 on tripartite consultation which the Government of Zimbabwe ratified in 1998.  In essence, the development of the TNF which the Government of Zimbabwe ratified in 1998 is also in line with the provisions of Section 327 of the Constitution which mandates parliaments to domesticate international instruments ratified by Zimbabwe.

The purpose of this Bill is to create a binding legal framework among the social partners which is Government, organised business and organised labour.

The resultant law will enable the emergence of a binding, accountable, transparent, effective and responsive social dialogue platform capable of contributing to the sustainable development of the country, especially in relation to relations between business, labour and Government.

“There was general consensus amongst stakeholders who attended all public hearings that regularising the TNF was a positive development which was long overdue and should be expedited as a matter of urgency. Stakeholders noted that the platform would deal with socio-economic issues and minimise strikes, such as the January 2019 Job stay away which cost the country productive time and had other unfavourable consequences including violence,” it was noted in parliament.

Social dialogue is a key development issue pronounced in International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention Number144 of 1976 and practised the world over. Zimbabwe ratified the Convention in 1989; however implementation of social dialogue can be traced back to the1990s when the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) was instituted. The Government has further taken a step towards formalising social dialogue by initiating the Tripartite Negotiating Forum Bill [H.B. 5, 2018].The Bill seeks to establish a TNF whose mandate is to ensure consultation, cooperation and negotiation on social and economic issues by Government, Organised Business and Organised Labour. It is against this background that the Portfolio Committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare considered the TNF Bill and compiled this report.

The public hearings were attended by various stakeholders including; the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), farmers’ unions, Chinhoyi Municipality employees, representatives from the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development and Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, and members of the public in general.

The Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) was established in 1998 to provide a platform for engagement, negotiating and consultation, meaning social dialogue among Government, business and labour on issues of common interest relating to social and economic policy.

Furthermore, the Committee analysed the provisions of the Bill and written submissions from stakeholders.