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Social contract: A web of deceit

Government has killed consensus building among social partners by railroading amendments to the Labour Bill without factoring inputs from key stakeholders, analysts have said.

Ndamu Sandu

The Labour Amendment Bill was passed through Parliament last week and now requires President Robert mugabe’s assent to become law.

The Bill seeks to stop the carnage on the job market after the July 17 Supreme Court ruling that allowed employers to terminate job contracts on three months’ notice. Over 20 000 have lost their jobs since the ruling.

Analysts said last week the Bill was hurriedly done without the input of other social partners.

Priscah Mupfumira
Labour Minister Priscah Mupfumira

The employers have said the same, equating the Bill to a government tool designed to “fix business”.

The Zimbabwe Congress of trade Unions (ZCTU) said although consultations with social partners were done, “some inputs
agreed to were deliberately omitted, like the right to strike, maternity leave and strengthening the Labour Court to enforce its decisions and those of arbitrators, among others”.

Labour economist Godfrey Kanyenze said the social partners agreed last year on the principles to review the Labour Act and now that government had adopted a unilateral decision, the move had killed the whole basis of consensus
building and negotiating a social contract.

“Without reaching to each other,it will make it difficult to move forward,” Kanyenze said. He said the Labour Force Survey had showed that 94,5% of jobs were informal.

“We are sweating over 5% instead of doing things that expand formal employment. While protection is a useful starting point, it is hardly an adequate building plank for poverty reduction,” Kanyenze said.

He said bringing every stakeholder to the table inculcated national ownership of policies and benefits from talent embedded in other sectors. Government had no monopolies of ideas, he said.

“Hurry, hurry has no blessings,” Kanyenze said, quoting a Swahili proverb which stresses the importance of doing a given assignment well and not hurrying for the sake of completing it.

The Labour Amendment Bill has a retrospective clause which says that those who were fired after the Supreme Court ruling were entitled to a two-week salary for every year worked, on top of the three months’ notice award. the move, analysts said, would be a burden for institutions such as parastatals that had been struggling to pay salaries and had sought the retrenchment route.

“This means the burden has to be transferred to treasury which wants to halve the employment costs from 80 to 40%.
You can predict what will happen,” an analyst said last week.

For a social contract to be effective, there is need for trust, transparency, open-mindedness and a shared common vision among stakeholders. the social contract is often preceded by a declaration of intent, which suggests that the
parties are serious. the declaration of intent is meant to diffuse tensions and build trust among stakeholders.

History is replete with examples where government ignored its social partners and proceeded to make unilateral decisions.

In January 2001, the social partners signed a declaration of intent towards a social contract with the sub-theme, Together We Can Make Zimbabwe Great. It was agreed that as a basis for concluding specific protocols under a social
contract, there was need to create a conducive and tolerant environment.

But after the signing of the declaration, ZCTU withdrew from the negotiations citing lack of commitment on the part of the government in the wake of a 70% increase in fuel prices of June 2001.

ZCTU organised a two-day stayaway in July 2001 which resulted in the reconvening of the tripartite negotiation Forum (TNF).

Before the parties had inked results of the negotiations, the government came up with Statutory Instrument 307A on Minimum Wages and 307B on Price Controls undermining the spirit of smart partnership.

The social partners reconvened and came up with the Kadoma Declaration of November 2001 which highlighted the need to restore relations with development partners. the declaration was not signed following misunderstandings between government and labour over continued violence, and especially the facilitation of the formation of a rival union, the
Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions.

In his 2003 national Budget statement, then Finance minister Herbert Murerwa observed that efforts to protect the consumer from spiralling prices were being undermined by price controls that focused mostly on the final product,
ignoring developments affecting inputs into the production process.

In a move that contradicted the budget statement, government published Statutory Instrument (SI) 302 of 2002 on Control of Goods (Price Freeze) order on November 15 2002. the freeze was for a period of six months.

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