The Sunday Mail
All levels of workers in Zimbabwe this week commemorate International Labour Day.
The celebrations come amid an increase in labour disputes. An analysis of disputes, which are dealt with by our Labour Court clearly shows that most employers are wrongly advised.
It is the wrong advice which then leads to companies incurring huge labour costs.
Some organisations prefer to hire consultants who are not lawyers to handle their labour issues.
Labour relations need high legal expertise.
In most cases, employers tend to rush in making labour related decisions and ignore the implications of not following the law.
In addition, a few employers invest in industrial relations training which would be a useful in lessening labour disputes.
Zimbabwe’s labour laws are deeply rooted and shaped by the skewed environment that obtained before independence.
During colonial times, the peasants, general workers and nationalists had one common enemy — the coloniser.
Peasants wanted land, workers wanted better wages and rights while nationalists wanted political power and equality.
On attaining Independence, the workers wanted their rights issues and wages addressed, thus, the strikes and all wage demands in early 1980s.
In 1985, the Labour Relations Act was passed as law to protect the worker and to fulfil their demands.
When Government attempted, around 2000, to institute free market laws, there was fierce resistance.
As such, the Labour Act (28:01) was designed to protect a black employee against the white employer.
Ideologically, this historical issue is clearly one of the causes of labour disputes in recent times.
If one were to critically look at the Labour Amendment No. 7 of 2005 and 15 of 2015, they will notice that the law was poorly crafted.
For example, the current Section 95 of the Labour Amendment Act No. 5 of 2015 is a disaster. This is because the labour officer who presides over a conciliation process, which is by its very nature is non-prejudicial, becomes adjudicator in the same matter if parties fail to agree.
How can that be a fair and just law?
Again, the labour officer if he/she makes a determination, they are supposed to apply for confirmation of their decision for compliance and cite the losing party as a party thereto. There is no express provision to join the successful party.
If confirmed, the labour officer would then proceed to register the judgment for enforcement with a court with appropriate jurisdiction either the High Court or the Magistrates’ Courts.
This makes a labour officer an interested party to the proceedings yet they should be an independent adjudicator.
Section 95 is interpreted as not requiring a labour officer to apply for confirmation were an employee loses a case.
Clearly that is a denial to a constitutional right of access to the court.
While labour dispute should be determined on merits, in Zimbabwe, matters are resolved on technicalities.
Such an approach in labour matters increase cost to business and employees.
In addition, the High Court and the Labour Court of Zimbabwe enjoy parallel jurisdiction and that on its own is the case of current challenges in labour dispute resolution. The best would have to make the Labour Court a division of the High Court with special and simplified rules.
There are several gaps and inconsistencies in the Labour Act to the extent that there is need for an overhaul of the Labour Act (28:01).
It is common knowledge the economy has been on a decline and quite a huge chunk of our populace has been surviving on informal activities without any savings.
This means that employees’ ability to move from one job to another is restricted and as such, processes like retrenchments or dismissals would be opposed vigorously.
If the economy flourishes, the employees would definitely not be difficult to terminate as they would know that they would be on another job. This is the reason why even the current labour reform would not yield perfect labour laws as clearly the employers and employees would be looking at the current environment as the determinant factor of their bargaining position.
Rogers Matsikidze is a legal practitioner, labour consultant and estate administrator. He wrote this article in his personal capacity for The Sunday Mail. Feedback: [email protected]