THE biggest labour union in the country, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) on Friday said it would apply pressure on the government to amend the recently enacted Labour Amendment Act.
President Robert Mugabe assented to the Labour Amendment Bill, making it an Act of Parliament in an extraordinary government Gazette published on Wednesday last week.
ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo said there was nothing for the worker to celebrate in the new law, describing it as worse than the Labour Act of 1980. He said the new Act still had a lot of loopholes, some of which subjected employees to abuse by employers.
He said the ZCTU was looking at ways to launch a challenge to certain clauses in the Act which were oppressive for labour.
One of the ways, he said, was to take some workers’ cases to the courts to challenge the constitutionality of the law.
Amendments to the Labour Act were rushed through Parliament a fortnight ago following massive job losses where more than 25 000 people were sent packing after the Supreme Court ruling of July 17.
Although some workers have welcomed the Act, which allows fired employees to get packages in retrospect, the ZCTU says it demanded more.
“For now, the document might look alright, but as the ZCTU, we don’t think it is okay,” Moyo said.
“There are several provisions in that Act which are retrogressive.
For now, the employer or government might not decide to use them, but who knows when the stubborn one will come to apply those provisions and open floodgates of employee abuse again.”
Moyo said they would launch their challenge in three ways.
“We will engage the government whenever the platform is availed to us. That is number one. Secondly, we will take the legal route,” he said. On this one, we will take a few cases of fired workers to court and challenge the constitutionality of the law. It has many loopholes that can be abused.
“Thirdly, we are going to use political power to show our anger. We will go to the streets to demonstrate.”
Among the loopholes, the ZCTU said the provision of two weeks’ salary for every year served was unacceptable and also that Section (3), which allowed the employer to apply for exemption if it could not afford to pay the minimum retrenchment package was also unacceptable.
According to the amendments, an employer can apply for exemption to the retrenchment board and if there is no response within 14 days, then the application is deemed successful.
“How can the inefficiency of the retrenchment board or its administrative challenges become an approval of an exemption by default? This only serves the employers’ interests and it has to be challenged,” Moyo said.
He said the Labour minister was also given too much power, even to poke her nose into the running of unions and employment councils. He said this was contrary to various clauses approved by the International Labour Organisation
ZCTU said powers for collective bargaining were now eroded in the newly-enacted law. He said a few gains that were achieved during former Labour minister Nicholas Goche’s era had now all been thrown down the drain.
“During Goche’s time, social partners agreed on 13 sets of principles.
The legislation was supposed to speak to those 13 principles, but this document has abandoned that,” Moyo said.
“Some of the principles included the right to strike, the issue of maternity leave and mechanisms for dispute resolution in Zimbabwe and retrenchments. The current law takes us back to the 1980s by creating labour officers who will obviously be overwhelmed by the bureaucracy in government.
”MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu also said his party fully associated itself with reservations expressed by the ZCTU on the Labour Amendment Act.
“The Bill was rushed through Parliament and the final product contains a lot of rough edges. If you scrutinise that Act, you will realise that workers still remain vulnerable, particularly when it comes to issues to do with retrenchment packages,” Gutu said.
The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) also said in as much as they embraced the law, some provisions still needed revisiting.
“The new law is good as far as it stops employers from dismissing workers wantonly. However, as NCA, we disagree with the part of the law that says when workers are retrenched they must get a package of two weeks salary for every year served. We believe this is too little. It will be much better if it was increased to one month salary for every year worked,” said Madock Chivasa, NCA spokesperson.