International Labour Organisation delegation heads for Zimbabwe
A HIGH level International Labour Organisation (ILO) mission is expected to visit Zimbabwe soon to assess progress made in aligning the Labour Amendment Act to conventions governing its activities.
The decision was reached by the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) after considering submissions made by employee, business and government representatives.
An ILO report by the CAS outlining the deliberations that took place during the discussion on Zimbabwe at the just-ended 105th ILO conference states that the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which represented the employees, told CAS that eight years had passed since the ILO Committee of Experts had discussed Zimbabwe’s flagrant disregard of the most basic rights for workers and recommended the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry which found that systematic violations of conventions 87 and 98 were rampant in the country.
Convention 87 guarantees the freedom of association and the right to organise while convention 98 guarantees the right to enjoy collective bargaining and protection from anti-union discrimination in respect of employment.
In March 2010, an ILO-appointed Commission of Inquiry concluded that there was a clear pattern of arrests, detentions, violence and torture of trade union leaders by security forces in a calculated attempt to intimidate and threaten labour activists. The employees also raised concern over the routine use of the police and army against strikers, widespread interference in trade union affairs and lack of judicial independence and the rule of law.
Since then, government has repeatedly expressed its commitment to give effect to the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, which visited the country in 2014.
The employees told the Committee that they were not only disappointed by government’s inaction, but were also alarmed by the regressive measures and steps recently undertaken.
“Although the right to collective bargaining was recognised as a fundamental right by article 65 of the Constitution of 2013, labour laws did not give it effect in practice. Indeed, none of the shortcomings raised by the Committee of Experts have been effectively addressed,” said the employees in the report.
The report also raised concern over the fact that under section 17 of the Labour Act, government, through the Minister of Labour, continued to maintain its prerogative to issue regulations on an extensive list of matters that included conditions of employment, while denial of registration of collective bargaining agreements which the Minister considered unreasonable and unfair, continued to be allowed by sections 78 and 79.
These provisions contradicted Article 4 of convention 98 which guarantees non-interference by government in trade union activities.
Nevertheless, government had reinforced its discretionary power with the adoption of the Labour Act of 2015, which provided that collective bargaining agreements had to include measures to promote high levels of productivity and economic competitiveness.
In addition, section 19 was singled out as continuously denying public employees the right to collective bargaining.
The employees said government continued to blatantly violate Article 1 of the convention, which states that workers enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination. Another worry expressed by the employees relates to the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Bill, which sought to exempt investors operating in those zones from the application of the Labour Act. Instead of the Labour Act, the Minister would provide rules for conditions of service, termination, dismissal and disciplinary procedures to apply in the zones.
This means that workers in these zones would be excluded from the right to collective bargaining and be subjected only to regulations unilaterally made by the SEZ authority with the power to declare any area a special economic zone. Employees noted that the impact on workers under such arrangements could be devastating.
The employees also lamented that the Public Order and Security Act had not been repealed despite having been condemned by the ILO years ago.
They added that the Labour Amendment Act only made the situation worse by empowering, under section 120, government to appoint an administration to run the affairs of a trade union it believed was being mismanaged. This provision undermined Article 3 of convention 87 which protected the right of trade unions to administer their activities without interference by public authorities.
On the contrary, the Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (EMCOZ), represented by Josphat Kahwema, said while there existed challenges which affected workers and employers, workers should not overlook the fact that progress had been made towards compliance with the convention.
EMCOZ pleaded with the committee to encourage member States to resolve their labour problems through social dialogue at national level.
The employer members believed that the tripartite structure of social dialogue would contribute to the finalisation of the process for the harmonisation of the national legislation with the convention in the near future.
To build momentum, the employer members encouraged government to continue to work with Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) partners to finalise the outstanding legislative amendments to ensure full compliance with the convention and to explore reasonable measures to track, monitor and report on incidents of anti-union discrimination and avail itself of any technical assistance it may require from the ILO for full compliance with the conventions in both law and practice.
Speaking on behalf of government, Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Prisca Mupfumira, indicated that some of the issues raised for discussion had not been raised by the Committee of Experts.
She hinted that legislative issues should be discussed in the TNF and other social dialogue structures.
The Minister reiterated that government was committed to addressing all issues with the social partners at the national level.
She said incidences of clashes between the law enforcement agents and trade unions had been reduced and that government continued to work towards the improvement of working relations between State actors and trade unionists in order to find mutually acceptable solutions to the issues discussed by the committee.
Mupfumira admitted that the Supreme Court ruling of July 17, 2015 had exposed loopholes in the existing laws, giving employers the right to terminate employment contracts without notice.
Since this ruling had resulted in unprecedented massive job losses, government had taken measures to expedite the enactment of labour legislation to stop the dismissals. The Labour Amendment Act of 2015, she said, prohibited the termination of employment without notice.
She also pointed out that the socio-economic challenges experienced by the country had been worsened by the El Niño induced drought.
In this context, some employers had been failing to comply fully with collective bargaining agreements, especially with respect to minimum wages.
This had also led to delays in the payment of salaries and remittance of trade union dues and medical aid contributions.
Turning on to the SEZ Bill, Mupfumira said it could not undermine the fundamental rights of workers especially those relating to conventions 87 and 98, as the Constitution of the country already guaranteed these rights.
Moreover, it was government’s intention to convene a tripartite seminar to build greater consensus on how the industrial relations framework for SEZ was to be configured.
In her concluding remarks, she emphasised that government had demonstrated full respect towards the comments by the ILO supervisory bodies as well as towards the diverse opinions of social partners.
Having considered presentations made by EMCOZ, ZCTU and government, ILO’s Committee on the Application of Standards welcomed government’s indication that steps would be taken to harmonise the labour and public service legislation with Articles 1 and 4 of Convention No.9, including effected and proposed amendments to the Labour Act.
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