THE 2014 protracted wage negotiations between the Associated Mine Workers Union of Zimbabwe and the employer body the Chamber of Mines is heading for arbitration after having declared a deadlock twice, businessdigest has established.
Although both the Chamber and the union have remained mum over developments in the negotiations, a source told businessdigest that the two parties would meet today in a last ditch effort to reach an agreement on wages and avoid going through the arbitration process.
According to the National Employment Council constitution, the two parties have to declare a deadlock three times before they can go to arbitration and today’s meeting could be the last time the two parties meet before declaring the third and final deadlock.
“We are a long way apart in terms of agreement,” the source said. “The employer is of the view that because of the economic slide , the high cost of inputs and the depressed prices of most minerals makes it difficult to meet the wage demands of the union.”
Another source said the chamber and the union have met three times over the last two and half weeks in which they declared a deadlock twice and agreed to go and “ give each other time to rethink” before meeting again today.
The 2014 wage negotiations have dragged on since last year with the two sides failing to agree.
In October last year the union demanded a minimum wage increase from the current US$227 to between US$400- US$500. This was dismissed by the Chamber as unfeasible due to difficulties in the mining sector.
Negotiations ground to a halt when the Chamber refused to increase the wages to the Poverty Datum Line level of about US$573 arguing that the provision of free accommodation, education, transport and electricity among other perks meant that the workers were already getting the PDL linked minimum wage level.
The chamber then shelved the stance they had taken not to move from the current minimum wage partly because of the union’s argument that not all mineworkers benefitted from perks such as free accommodation.
In his budget statement in December, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said government was reviewing the labour law to make it easier in the hiring of employees and increase productivity.
“I am, therefore, calling upon my colleague, the minister responsible for labour, Honourable (Nicholas) Goche, to seriously consider amendments to the Labour Act that relates work to productivity,” Chinamasa said. “It is also necessary that we introduce in our labour laws flexibility in the hiring of workers, as well as alignment of wage adjustments to labour productivity.”
Chinamasa said the changes would make the laws “flexible and linking remuneration to productivity, that way promoting interests of both the investor and employees”.
The Labour Relations Act, in its current form, makes dismissals and retrenchments a slow process as employees have to go through a number of hearings. The hearings start at company level and a dissatisfied party can appeal to labour courts.
Failure to follow laid down procedures in dismissing an employee have in the past cost companies dearly as they have to pay damages in lieu of reinstatement.
However, in a country with unemployment hovering above 80% and where most employees take home about US$200 per month on average, far less than the poverty datum line currently at US$573, labour analysts say the review of the law will poison relations with labour unions but curry favour with the Chinese who have a reputation of abusing employee rights.
Concerns over Chinese companies’ treatment of employees have been raised in different fora in the country, with the matter raised no less than three times in parliament last year.
The Chinese companies stand accused of subjecting employees to long working hours, poor working conditions, arbitrary dismissals, beatings at the workplace and very low wages.