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TNF in the doldrums

Kudzai Kuwaza

AS the tripartite parties — government, business and labour — met this week at a retreat in Victoria Falls to plan the way forward for 2020, concerns remain over the lack of urgency in operationalising the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) since it became a legislated body last year.

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 by the partners and was legislated in June last year.

The codification of the body last year amid pomp and fanfare had brought hope that the country would have a social contract 18 years after the Kadoma Declaration, and bring solutions to the numerous headwinds buffeting the economy.

The Kadoma Declaration was drafted after negotiations held in Kadoma by the TNF in 2001. The declaration identified the causes of Zimbabwe’s high country risk factors and suggested measures by the three social partners — government, labour and business — to deal with the risk and improve the country’s image.

However, the social contract remains a pipe dream even after the TNF was legislated last year as there is no TNF secretariat yet in place, with only one meeting held by the principals so far. The chopping and changing of Labour ministers has also bogged down the process with each incumbent needing time to catch up with the process. President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently appointed Paul Mavima as Labour minister. Mavima is the third minister Mnangagwa has appointed since he came to power in 2017.

Patronella Kagonye and Sekai Nzenza were the two other previous ministers appointed by Mnangagwa. The sluggish pace at which the TNF is moving comes at a time the country is experiencing its worst economic decline in a decade characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch, acute foreign currency and fuel shortage, prolonged power outages, depressed production and runaway year-on-year inflation of more than 500% which has decimated incomes and pensions.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) organised the retreat this week for the three tripartite partners in the resort town of Victoria Falls and the UN agency instrumental in providing assistance to the negotiating platform.

The ILO’s country director for Zimbabwe and Namibia, Hopolang Phororo, in a recent interview with this newspaper, expressed concern over the glacial pace at which a critical negotiating platform is taking shape.

“I think the progress has been slow. The body was legislated in June and, come six months later, we have had, where I am familiar, one TNF meeting in which the principals are involved. I think that is a bit slow,” she said. “I think what we should do is to give the TNF a chance.

As ILO we are standing by the tripartite constituents ready to avail whatever technical support to get the process moving. In my discussions, I have had the commitment of government, employers and even the workers saying we need to move.”

Her concerns are echoed by labour market analyst and former Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) executive director John Mufukare who pointed out that there is no commitment to make the TNF work.

“There could be no clearer indication of the lack of seriousness than the fact that there is still no secretariat running the TNF,” Mufukare said.
“The wheels are turning but there is no movement going forward. It is very sad because the problems the country is facing cannot be solved by one party alone, it needs all the tripartite partners.

There is absolutely no co-ordination.”He added that the continued changing of the ministers has crippled the process as each minister when appointed needs to be brought up to speed by not only his staff but tripartite partners.

The TNF process has also been dogged by mistrust as evidenced by the remarks of Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president Peter Mutasa at the Emcoz congress held in Bulawayo last year.

“If you look at what is wrong in our country it is because there is no democratic ownership of anything. It is for those who fought for the liberation of the country to do what they want and everyone else must just follow,” Mutasa said.

“I used to go to the (then Labour) minister (Sekai Nzenza) alone when invited but now I am afraid to go alone. I have to hire some people. That is how bad the relationship is. So we must talk about these things freely.”

He pointed out that social partners are not consulted and are taken by surprise when policies such as ZimAsset and the Transitional Stabilisation Programme are announced by government.

It remains to be seen whether the year 2020 will bring about the much-needed social contract on the back of an effective and operational TNF platform.

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