BY KUDZAI KUWAZA
Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) engagements have been thrown into disarray following labour’s decision to pull out of a crucial meeting recently, as the standoff over minimum wages intensified.
The TNF brings together government, business and labour to digest key socioeconomic matters affecting the economy and propose solutions.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) secretary-general Japhet Moyo told Standardbusiness that labour decided to walk out after realising that there would be “no value” in attending the latest round of talks.
The Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions and the Apex Council, which represents the interests of state workers, also stormed out after it became clear that a proposal for foreign currency-denominated salaries would not sail through.
A push towards a blanket national minimum wage had also been rejected by business, which said these should be negotiated at sectoral level.
This publication was told that government fought in private sector employers’ corner on the minimum wage push, triggering outrage from labour, which accused its TNF peers of colluding to propose low salaries for Zimbabwe’s long-suffering workers.
“We walked out because we did not find any value in being part of a meeting that does not intend to meaningfully resolve issues that affect workers,” Moyo charged.
“We cannot be part of a TNF that perpetuates slavery and hunger.
“The principle of a national minimum wage is not unique to Zimbabwe,” he said, accusing Labour minister Paul Mavima of failing to listen to labour’s point of view.
The ZCTU boss said instead of exhausting the minimum wage issue, government wanted to proceed to discuss other issues during the meeting.
He said labour would not attend future meetings unless government and business demonstrated that they were ready to tackle serious issues affecting workers.
But Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) president Israel Murefu described the walkout as unnecessary.
“I do not think the walkout by labour will resolve anything,” Murefu said.
“We need to go to the negotiating table and agree to disagree,” Murefu said.
The Emcoz chief said after the Covid-19 pandemic pushed more of Zimbabwe’s ailing firms to the brink, it would be impossible to issue a national minimum wage.
Murefu said although all three parties were amenable to paying a minimum wage of 50% of the Poverty Datum Line (PDL), nothing conclusive was agreed during the charged meeting.
The TNF technical committee has been tasked to carry out research on the capability of the various sectors to pay at least 50% of the current PDL.
“We have given the technical committee about a month to carry out this research,” Murefu said.
“This will then guide us in our negotiations in our next meeting.
“Despite the walkout by labour, we did make some progress during the meeting,”
Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency data showed last Wednesday that the PDL for an average family of five shot to $28 362 in April from $26 560 in March, way above what many Zimbabwean workers earn.
Labour market analyst John Mufukare said there was need for the TNF to address the causes of the challenges and not tinker with the symptoms.
“It is disturbing that business and labour cannot find common ground in this difficult environment,” Mufukare said.
“Business and labour should look at the cause of the problems and not the symptoms.”
This was not the first time labour boycotted a TNF meeting.
Unions boycotted the TNF meeting which was scheduled for December 17 last year, saying government and business were not negotiating sincerely.
“We members of organised labour made up of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions and Apex Council would like to express our displeasure with the proceedings at the Tripartite Negotiating Forum and in particular, the lack of seriousness by both government and business when it comes to the issue of addressing eroded wages and salaries crisis, hence our decision not to participate in the TNF of 17 December 2020,” the unions said.