THE Office of the President and Cabinet has set stringent conditions forcing employers to withdraw their High Court appeal against the official labour law reforms if government is to engage them in negotiations under the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF).
Sources at the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) said this week Deputy Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet retired Colonel Christian Katsande at a TNF technical committee meeting three weeks ago insisted government cannot sit on the same table with people trying to arm-twist the state, as relations between government and business remain frosty after the enactment of recent Labour Law amendments.
The TNF is a social dialogue platform that brings together government, business and labour to negotiate key socio-economic matters. It has been in existence since 1998 as a voluntary and unlegislated chamber in which socio-economic matters are discussed and negotiated over by the partners.
Employers appealed against various sections of the amended legislation including that which compels them to compensate workers they dismissed on three months’ notice without a retrenchment package as permitted by a July 17 Supreme Court ruling this year. This has resulted in dismissed workers from at least 23 companies picketing their employers’ offices demanding compensation or reinstatement.
In its application filed at the High Court in September, employers said there were many areas in the Labour Amendment Act that needed revisiting by the courts, taking into account the country’s Constitution.
“This is an application for a declaration of the constitutional invalidity of certain provisions of the Labour Amendment Act No 5 of 2015,” Emcoz executive director John Mufukare said in his founding affidavit.
“I am prepared to go further to aver that this limitation came about through an arbitrary process of legislating, a kneejerk reaction by the state to what it perceived as a social ill.
“That the process of legislating the Amendment Act was reactionary is evidenced in the lack of thinking, consultation and research required to guide government action and law-making.”
However a source at Emcoz said: “The government is quite insistent that employers should drop the court case first, arguing that they cannot negotiate when one partner is holding the axe over the other.”
Emcoz president Joel Kahwema confirmed that government has requested that they withdraw their case before negotiations.
“The government has requested us to withdraw our court case and we will write an official response to the TNF chairperson (Katsande),” Kahwema said. “But we first need to consult our members before responding.”
He, however, said government should put in place measures to protect their members from lawsuits by dismissed workers as the parties thrash out an agreement for further amendments to the act.
“We are saying that companies need protection during our meetings to further amend the Labour Act to avoid workers attaching the property of companies,” Kahwema said.
He said the confederation strongly disputes that nearly 30 000 workers lost their jobs through the July 17 Supreme Court ruling, arguing the figure is a gross exaggeration.