Whither the TNF?

THE signing of the global political agreement and subsequent formation of an inclusive government in February undoubtedly came as surprise for many judging by the lack of goodwill on the part of the political players that characterised the negotiations from the outset.


But despite the odds, the warring factions buried their differences and formed a unity government.

The talks to bring the warring political parties together started almost a decade ago, but achieved little success.

Like the country’s political settlement, the resumption of dialogue under the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) between government, business and labour and the eventual formation of a long planned “social contract” could come with the same element of surprise this time around.

Could the same feat be achieved on the TNF front as well?

Entrepreneur David Govere said he was optimistic that the environment is now ripe for the TNF to finally take off, citing developments on the political front where rival political parties formed a unity government despite ideological differences.

He said: “The fact that the principals of labour have agreed to come to the negotiating table this time around after opting out a few years back means that there is renewed hope that the TNF can work. I think the inclusive government has surely changed people’s ideas about the need to work together.

Certainly there is a good chance that dialogue will culminate in a social contract.”

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the largest labour organisation in the country, is not yet convinced government is sincere about reviving dialogue.

Secretary-general Wellington Chibebe remains sceptical about the success of the TNF saying the formation of a unity government is not enough to convince his union that the state is faithful in forming an alliance with labour and business.

He added that labour has always been “faithful and sincere” as a partner in the TNF while government on the other hand only sought to abuse the union.

Chibebe said: “Labour has always been about what needs to be done while the then government lacked sincerity. Because of lack of sincerity we had to pull out. But now we are saying that although government is not any different, let’s see where it takes us. This is not bad faith but we know that government is the same. We are giving them a benefit of the doubt and that is why we met them on Friday.”

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Kumbirai Katsande, a partner in the TNF representing business, believes it’s time to work together.

Katsande said: “There is no luxury not to work together anymore because the situation is tough out there and we have to start thinking outside the box and abandon our dogmas as a country so that we can tackle our challenges.

“We can’t be rigid forever and we must realise it is time to start looking at how best we can work together.”

Commenting on labour demands for high wages, a business executive said workers have to realise that the economy is not working and cannot be seen pressing for high wages as if Zimbabwe is a normal economy.

“Labour has to realise that the country’s economy is not working properly and therefore business can’t afford to pay high salaries. But we have to work together nonetheless,” the business executive said.

Over the years government, labour and business have been trying to come together as social partners and address various problems that dogged the country’s economy but failed to agree amid accusations by labour of lack of sincerity on the part of government.

Although talks to bring the parties together have failed to achieve the desired result in the past, it remains to be seen if parties concerned will put their differences aside and work for the greater good of the country.

Although Labour minister Paurina Mpariwa Gwanyaya said government was ready to meet with its partners in labour and business yet again after negotiations fell through in June 2007, it also remains to be seen if the government is sincere to work with business and labour this time around.

Analysts say lack of good will and mistrust between the partners could nip the planned social contract in the bud.

While government appears keen on reviving dialogue with its partners in the TNF, fears are that nothing on the ground has changed much to guarantee the success of a planned social contract touted as the remedy for the country’s economic problems.

Analysts say although the current situation demands that government, labour and business come together and find common ground on how best to get the country out of its current problems, this is unlikely going to happen arguing that now, more than ever business and labour relations could be trickier.

Others said the history of TNF alone is enough to cast doubt on whether the attitudes of the participants would change materially.

Labour first pulled out of the dialogue years back after government unilaterally increased the price of fuel and also after government blocked a visiting Cosatu delegation.

After that ZCTU and its partners had a rather thorny relationship.

The decision to resume dialogue was reached after two preparatory meetings in the past two months required under the Short-term Emergency Recovery Programme.

Under Sterp government said the TNF should resume.

The TNF partners have since set up a technical committee to assess agreements and issues that they concluded before their negotiations broke up.

The principals agreed on incomes and pricing stabilisation, the restoration of production, and management of foreign currency policies.

They hope to have a binding social contract that guides the formulation of all policies in the interest of the nation. But, as they say, “seeing is believing”.

BY CHRIS MURONZI