WORKERS might not be the biggest winners in the labour law amendment as earlier thought, with Senate — the upper House of Parliament — widely tipped to pass the Labour Amendment Bill (LAB) without any of the proposed amendments that would significantly cushion the workers from unfair dismissal, the Financial Gazette can exclusively report.
Senate will sit to deliberate on the Bill this afternoon.
The LAB sailed through the National Assembly without amendments on Tuesday night despite spirited efforts by legislators across the political divide to get it amended.
Labour, Public Service and Social Welfare Minister, Prisca Mupfumira, disallowed the amendments, which meant the Bill was then subjected to a vote.
Banking on their overwhelming majority in the legislative assembly, ZANU-PF whipped its Members of Parliament, who strangely voted for its passage despite the fact that some of them had suggested a plethora of amendments.
This prompted Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda, to direct concerned MPs, mainly from the opposition MDC-T, to submit the proposed amendments to Senate for deliberation.
But lawmakers who spoke to the Financial Gazette yesterday said there was a high possibility that the Bill would easily pass Senate without amendments.
Sceptics were quick to argue that there was a possibility that the amendments might never see the light of day given their nature and scope.
The LAB was hastily drafted to halt massive job losses triggered by a July 17 Supreme Court ruling, which gave employers power to terminate employee contracts on three months’ notice.
About 25 000 workers from both the private sector, local authorities and state enterprises have been sent packing since the judgement.
One of the major sticking points was the provision in the LAB for compensation amounting to an equivalent of one months’ salary per two years served payable to an employee upon dismissal, which MPs felt was too little.
The payment would be roughly half the employee’s monthly salary for each year, or just two weeks wages.
MPs wanted that clause to be amended to give the employee at least one month’s salary for each year served upon termination of employment in addition to a severance package amounting to six months’ salary and a translocation allowance.
A translocation allowance is a payment given to a worker to allow him or her to relocate to his or her preferred destinations after losing a job.
One legislator also argued against a provision which allows an employer to make an appeal for waiver of retrenchment with the Retrenchment Board if he/she had no capacity to compensate, with the appeal considered automatically approved if not responded to within two weeks after being lodged.
There was also heated debate as MPs felt there was need to legislate in retrospect to force companies that sacked workers prior to the High Court ruling, with Buhera South legislator, Joseph Chinotimba, submitting termination letters of former employees of conglomerate Meikles who were fired in February.
The LAB only allows for compensation for employees fired on the basis of Chief Justice, Godfrey Chidyausiku’s July 17 ruling.
Other MPs like Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) vice president, Thokozani Khupe, called for the addition of a clause which allows for the reinstatement of all workers fired after July 17.
“As the MDC-T, we want to make it clear that we are against the Supreme Court ruling. We want all workers fired on the basis of the ruling to be reinstated, failure of which they should get adequate compensation,” she said while giving her submissions.
Mufakose legislator, Paurina Mpariwa, also challenged the provision of the Bill which gives the Minister of Labour power to dissolve executives of trade unions.
Watchers said the unusual position taken by both Mupfumira and Mudenda raised questions over whether ZANU-PF was sincere in wanting to incorporate the amendments.
“What raises doubt is the fact that the amendments should have been incorporated during the debate in the National Assembly. Whether or not these amendments will be accepted is the responsibility of Minister Mupfumira who showed she was not keen to accept them and we wonder what would have changed in the next few hours for her to change her mind,” said an MDC-T MP who did not want to be named.
According to Parliamentary procedure, the responsible minister has the choice to reject or accept amendments to any Bill.
If he or she rejects the amendments, they will then be subject to vote, which means the side with the majority carries the day as what happened on Tuesday.
MDC-T chief whip, Innocent Gonese, doubted that his party’s suggested amendments would be accepted.
He said probability was high that ZANU-PF MPs would frustrate the amendments given their “strange behaviour on Tuesday night”.
“I have my doubts (that the amendments will be incorporated) because our counterparts seem not to be reading on the same page as us. They want to paint a rosy picture to give the impression that they are for the workers when the opposite is clearly true,” Gonese told the Financial Gazette.
“But as directed by the Speaker, we are engaging our members in the Senate so that they can raise the issues but as you know at the end of the day, it’s a question of numbers. They also have the majority in the Upper House. We don’t see the Minister (Mupfumira) accepting the amendments. If she really wanted to accept them, she could have done so yesterday (Tuesday). On that basis, there is every reason for us to believe that this Bill is cast in stone and it will pass in its current form,” he said.
Mupfumira was not answering calls yesterday.