Knuckling down on social security

Government engaged the International Labour Organisation to hire a consultant on behalf of the Tripartite Negotiating Forum and come up with a Zero TNF Draft Bill.The Bill has since been handed over to the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Ministry, and distributed to Business and Labour.

Feedback is coming from all stakeholders, and once that input has been gathered, we will go through due process; aiming to complete the Bill timeously.

However, we have not met to finalise the stakeholder input, so it would be premature for me to divulge any contentious points that may have arisen.

Disagreements are discouraged in social dialogue: It’s all about compromise, and we await the ongoing consultations to yield fruitful amendments.

Labour law reform is a process Government has been seized with since Independence.

Dynamics that emerge from time to time inform the imperative of legislative reforms on the labour market.

Currently, Government and social partners have agreed on principles upon which the Labour Act (28:01) will be amended.

These principles have been endorsed by Cabinet, and a Zero Draft Bill has been developed.

Finalising this process entails the Attorney-General’s Office examining the Bill thoroughly. This is the stage we are at; once the AG peer-reviews the Bill, we expect it to sail through Cabinet and Parliament.

I hope the current session of Parliament will deliberate on the Draft Bill and that the President will assent to it in 2017.

While it is premature for Government to outline what has been agreed upon and what is outstanding, on September 1, 2016, the TNF Principals agreed that the Labour Law reform should focus on the following –

1. Review of the Labour Act (28:01) to align it to the Constitution and ratified International Labour Organisation conventions as well as to create an enabling environment for employment-creation and sustainable economic growth. The review will be based on the following principles, among others:

a. Strengthening the retrenchment process by improving the consultative framework between employers and workers and the Retrenchment Board, within a specified period on such issues as the need to retrench and capacity of employers to meet their obligations;

b. Aligning provisions on maternity leave in the Labour Act (28:01) with the Constitution to remove the current qualifying periods and limitations;

c. Reviewing the inconsistencies of Labour Amendment Act No 5 of 2015 to ensure efficient labour dispute resolution; and

d. Improving the governance of employment councils as statutory institutions.

2. To adopt the draft TNF Bill which provides for the forum’s objectives and functions, including the establishment of an independent and full-time secretariat in order to strengthen social dialogue for socio-economic development.

3. To adopt amendments to the Special Economic Zones Bill to ensure workers in the zones are accorded fundamental rights at work as already provided in the Constitution. This has since become law.

Social Security

The turnaround at the National Social Security Authority is an ongoing process. I am happy with progress so far.

A raft of measures have been put in place to ensure pensioners get the quality service they deserve.

The restructuring exercise, which saw the coming on board of a new leadership, was meant to improve corporate governance, reduce operational costs, improve service delivery and improve accountability.

This was aimed at creating a “New Nssa” which delivers efficient service to pensioners with a pensioner-centric service culture.

The new Nssa strategy has three areas of focus: service delivery, culture and data integrity.

The following are some of the major achievements realised by the Nssa management:

Creation of pensioner-centric service culture: Nssa deals with pensioners, some of whom are vulnerable and frail. The need for the pensioner to be treated with dignity and utmost respect is key to the type of business Nssa runs. The value of Ubuntu/Hunhu is being cultivated at Nssa in order to improve service delivery.

The new management believes that even without statutory provisions, Zimbabweans should want to contribute to Nssa schemes, hence “Nssa by choice, not by statute” is now a guiding principle in all the Authority’s operations.

New methods of pension payment: New methods of paying pensions have been introduced such as the mobile money payment system, for instance. Pensioners are now being paid via banks of their choice as well as through One Wallet, Ecocash or Telecash. This brings convenience and choice to the pensioners.

Restructuring: In a bid to improve on service delivery and efficiency, Nssa management is restructuring the organisation. A skills audit was done to assess whether or not the Authority had the appropriate skills to deliver its mandate. This saw some staff members being made redundant.

Upskilling is underway in keeping with the new strategy.

With retrenchments currently being implemented, Nssa is aligning with best practice. Most African countries have more than four schemes, yet manage them effectively with far less employees than does Zimbabwe which has only two schemes.

Cost containment: The new Nssa leadership has done well in containing costs associated with the Authority’s day-to-day running. Nssa staff benefits were reviewed, resulting in significant savings. This cost-saving approach in other budget lines has reduced administration costs.

Stakeholder engagement: The new management has provided a platform for stakeholders, including the tripartite and staff to be engaged. For example, the annual report was presented to stakeholders in November 2016, and stakeholders had an opportunity to raise their concerns to both the Board and management. This engagement is now an ongoing practice at Nssa.

Shareholder involvement: For many years, Nssa has been a passive shareholder in investee companies, contributing to poor investment returns. However, the new Nssa Board and management are actively involved in the governance of investee companies.

They have been demanding more accountability and disclosure to ensure Nssa investments pay dividends. Dividend returns enable the Authority to pay a better pension, thus improving the living standards of many voiceless Zimbabweans.

Compliance with statutory contribution rate: Government complied with SI61 of 2013 by raising the contributory rate to 7 percent from 6 percent and earnings ceiling from US$200 to US$700 for civil servants.

Clearance of arrears: The nssa Board and management, working with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare; Ministry of Finance; the Public Service Commission and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, successfully concluded the clearance of Government arrears to Nssa.

Government, which had been in contributions arrears since June 2013, paid US$180,9 million in March 2017, bringing the Government account up to date.

Bonuses for pensioners: Nssa managed to pay a bonus to pensioners in December 2016.

Data clean-up: A data clean-up exercise to ensure the authority has clean employer and contributor data was initiated by the board and management. The exercise will ensure data loaded onto the ICT system is complete and accurate, thus ensuring improved turnaround time in offering service to clients as well as managing risks for the schemes.

Backlogs on benefits processing: Nssa cleared benefits backlogs which had been prejudicing pensioners.

Mobile clinic: Nssa re-launched the mobile clinic in September 2016 after the last unit broke down in 1998. The new and improved mobile clinic with digital x-ray services, audiometry, spirometry and vision screening is offering health surveillance to thousands of workers, including those in hard-to-reach areas. Nssa, under its corporate social responsibility programme, has been offering free medical checks to the general public.

Workers’ Compensation Rehabilitation Centre: Nssa has one of the best rehabilitation centres in the country. The new management is working hard to maintain the centre at world-class status through continuous engagement with stakeholders and other innovative strategies. The centre remains accessible to the public at affordable fees for the comprehensive, quality care offered.

New schemes: Zimbabwe has only two social security schemes, yet the majority of African countries have four or more. The new Nssa management has been doing the groundwork for the introduction of new schemes, including the funeral enhancement benefit, the Informal Sector Scheme, the National Health Insurance Scheme and the Maternity Scheme. This year, we should be introducing a few schemes.

Biometric data: A biometric identification system has been introduced to replace the paper life certificate, which was being used to confirm the existence of a pensioner. This will go a long way in mitigating the risk of people accessing pensions for deceased pensioners.

This also improves service delivery as pensioners no longer have to visit Nssa offices annually to submit the life certificates, which has been costly and unfriendly to users.

Command Agriculture: The authority supported Command Agriculture through a US$20 million facility to procure fertiliser, and this is expected to be on-going.

Actuarial valuation: Commissioning of the mandatory three-year actuarial valuation.

Housing

The National Building Society was licensed in April 2016, and launched to the public in May 2016 in Harare. The four main pillars of the building society’s mandate include: provision of decent affordable housing accommodation; provision of housing finance; contributing to the social security need by providing a service to Nssa contributors and pensioners; and providing a positive return on shareholder investment.

Since inception, the building society has approved in excess of 1 000 mortgage applications.

These contributed to the implementation of several housing projects in Adelaide Park in Epworth, Harare; Wood Brooke Park, Bindura; Amalinda Park and Stoneridge Park.

Completed houses have been commissioned at Adelaide Park and Wood Brooke Park.

There are several other projects which will also be launched nationwide in the next few weeks and these include:

Victoria Range in Masvingo, which will produce over 200 housing units for civil servants in the province; Magakooshla in Shurugwi, which will produce a minimum of 450 units for civil servants;

In Gweru, we have a project in Woodlands, which will produce in excess of 150 units for the informal sector, private sector and uniformed forces; and

In Chinhoyi, we are working on a project that will yield 700 units for individuals from all sectors of the economy.

Similar developments will be taking shape in the Matebeleland region.

In Manicaland, we have a project that will yield 400 housing units for the uniformed forces, while in Beitbridge, a project in Dulibadzimu suburb is also underway and this will produce a minimum of 500 housing units.

These projects are expected to be carried into the second half of 2017, and will form part of the work done so far towards the fulfilment of the annual target of 10 000 housing units.

National Health Insurance

Principles on the establishment of the National Health Insurance Scheme were drawn and approved by Cabinet in November 2016. Drawing from best practices from other countries and health surveys profiling the country’s health status, a proposed design for the scheme is now in place.

The Draft Statutory Instrument has also been crafted, with stakeholder consultations now underway.

The NHIS will, indeed, bring a sigh of relief to a lot of Zimbabweans who are currently not covered by health insurances and have the burden of paying out of pocket.

Currently, only 10 percent of workers are covered by medical aid. The informal sector is included in the design of the scheme.

Education

The Basic Education Assistance Module was established in 2001 as a key component of the Enhanced Social Protection Programme. It is based on a policy and legal framework designed to provide quality education to children, including specific policies aimed at supporting orphans and vulnerable children.

The programme has not been spared by the challenges being experienced by all sectors of the economy, and Government is lagging behind in tuition fee payment. Government has continuously said, “No child should be turned away from school.”

Presently, 161 102 children are being assisted at a cost of US$10 million annually. Treasury has allocated US$10 million for 2017, and we are still waiting for the disbursement.

Drought Mitigation

The Food Deficit Mitigation Programme began in earnest in October 2015 as an intervention by Government after distress calls for food assistance had grown louder.

The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Council Livelihoods Report had projected that more than 1,5 million people were going to be plunged into hunger due to the El Nino-induced drought.

The programme was first rolled out to the eight rural provinces where drought relief committees at ward, village and provincial level — comprising village heads, chiefs, NGOs, line ministries and provincial administrators — were actively involved in food distribution.

The programme has since expanded to the two metropolitan provinces, Harare and Bulawayo. About 852,384 households are receiving 42 520,20 tonnes of grain monthly. An average of 9 000 tonnes are being distributed to all provinces weekly.

The cumulative total grain distributed since the inception of the programme is 441 898,5 tonnes.

Allow me to emphasise that grain distribution is done in a non-partisan manner, with priority being given to the elderly, chronically ill, people with disabilities and orphans.

Honourable Prisca Mupfumira is the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare. She shared this information with The Sunday Mail’s Senior Reporter Lincoln Towindo in Harare last week

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