ZIM Labour Act Reform, Needs Cautiousness
By Brenald Chinyowa
Debate and confab have loomed the industry so lately, about the contemporary move by the Honorable Minister of Finance Cde Patrick Chinamasa availing the intent of the government to neo-liberalise the labour legal frame work of Zimbabwe all in the name of economic growth through improved firm level productivity, labour market flexibility and investor attractiveness. But the Zimbabwean labour law trajectory can be best assumed by paying a preview to its antique or historical development, because it explicitly unveils the paradox of employee vulnerability that need strong defense mechanisms to counteract their susceptibleness.
The development of labour law in Zimbabwe can be traced back to the pre colonialism/the primitive accumulation era where the central coercive legislation of this period was the Master and Servants Ordinance/1901 and Natives Pass Ordinance /1902 which were designed to fast track the establishment of racist capitalist system on the back of cheap and forced black labour. In the colonial era the industrial act of 1935 was enacted to deal with white working class, co-existing side by side with a unitary law applicable to the majority of the black working class. It saw the establishment of Collective Bargaining, conciliation and arbitration for dispute resolutions, recognition of trade unions one per industry but with highly restricted freedom of association, but it was based on openly racist lines with blacks being prevented from competing with whites for skilled jobs and excluded from the definition of employee in the Act. The 1945 and 1948 strikes led to amendments of the Act. In the Post colonialism era there was the enactment of Minimum Wages Act/1980, Employment Act/1980 and later the Labour Relations Act #16 of 1985.
This was an epoch of triumph for the black- middle class which led to the anti-colonial crusade over settler colonialism. The Act declared fundamental rights of employees including protection from unlawful discrimination and the right to organize. The single labour federation ZCTU was formed in 1981, an alliance of the new government led by the triumphant people’s party ZANU PF. Neo liberalism that is 1990 to present resembles the adoption of free market policies under Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAP) as a recommendation of the International Monetary Fund. The main legal instrument used to achieve deregulation of labour policies was the L R Amendment #12 of 1992 signified by the removal of state controls on minimum and maximum wages and introduction of NEC sectorial bargaining, streamlining disciplinary handling system by introducing employer controlled by codes of conduct, restrictions on the right to strike and abandonment of the one industry one union policy, destruction of permanent jobs through easy retrenchment and dismissal laws and their substitution by contract/ casual jobs paying lower wages.
The labour law reform in the form of the new Labour Act was brought in by LR Amendment Act # 17 of 2002 which aimed at advancing social democracy in the workplace. Then 2005 the Labour Act was amended by Act #7 and it improved maternity rights, strengthened the jurisdiction of the Labour Court and provided remedies on unfair dismissal among other incorporations, the implied sense of the amendment it was more of redressing the relaxation of the legal frame work by amendment # 12 of 1992.
From the historic development of the labour laws in Zimbabwe it is probable that the employees are subject to abuse if not fully protected. The new millennium witnessed a deepening economic crisis in Zimbabwe, aided and exacerbated by the twin forces of political authoritarianism and neoliberalism. However, whilst these two forces had previously acted in concert, by the end of the 1990s they began to diverge. The labour multitude’s radical dual-agenda against both neoliberalism and political authoritarianism therefore became more problematic, as these two malignant forces had now diverged to some extent and retrenched a polarization which appeared to split rights-based and redistribution-based struggles.
This emanated into a labour movement that remained not only a viable, but a vital force within Zimbabwe. The continued activism of a radicalized rank-and-file connected to a broader labour multitude has been accentuated as vital for emancipatory tussle in Zimbabwe, and despite the challenges posed by the political crisis which reached its zenith in 2008 and neoliberalism, there are a number of encouraging signs. Labour has retained its internal cohesion whilst fostering greater solidarity across the Southern African region, with the continued presence of rank-and-file activism even during the horrific repression of the 2000s offering hope for continued struggles in the more peaceful climate of the power-sharing government. Equally, ZCTU has proven itself uniquely adept at fostering further solidarity within the expansive informal sector, facilitating the empowerment of informal sector workers even in the most abject of circumstances.
The Zimbabwean labour movement is certainly battered and bruised, and its own internal contradictions between a social-democratic leadership and the radical agenda of the rank-and-file may yet fashion glitches.
The current intent of the government of the present day to go for labour act reform, is not new but rather the same with the Labour Relations Amendment #12 of 1992, as part of the ESAP, the technical sense of the amendment was rational to the business owners which are the capitalist operating on the motive of profit making through full exploitation of the factors of production at the lowest possible cost, to this end the labour is the one that always to suffer. The effects of ESAP were disastrous to the Zimbabwean populace as responded through collective job action and a sporadic rise of poverty levels emanating from rampant retrenchments by companies. These have remained unmitigated with growing unemployment and social poverty that led to massive and unprecedented working class struggles with the huge felt national strikes and stay aways of 1997. It then christened the ‘Eternal Suffering of African People’. It also led to a rise in political consciousness, and ZCTU-ZANU PF alliance was broken culminating in the emergence of the MDC political party in 1999.
Neo-liberalization of the current labour legal frame work will actually see the rebirth of the ‘Eternal Suffering of African People’ (ESAP). Let it be in the cognizance of every legislator & industrial stakeholders in Zimbabwe that the relationship between an employer and the employee in a relationship of a power bearer and one who is powerless, the bearer of power owning the means of production making the employee dependant on him, hence the employee is prone to exploitation from the unruly capitalist who is in pursuit for profits, someone was quoted “the central feature of an employment relationship is un ceasing power struggle”. Hence the employee will be at the vulnerable end due to incapacity to compete with the capitalist whom he depends on for a living.
The only hope for the susceptible employee is the legal figment (labour act), it is the only way in which the employees can be protected hence It’s my strong conviction that the labour Act is the army force (defence mechanism) which protects the interest of the employees and advance social justice at the work place, hence if the government proceeds in reforming the act in bid to boost the so called economic growth and investor attractiveness. It simply means the government will be weakening the defence system of the employees and their pillar for social justice at the work place
It has to be known that there the issue of remunerating employees on the bases of productivity is a little bit fiddly because productivity is a multifaceted displine and it is sculpted by various variables (factors of production) were labour is just but only a singular factor, hence I believe it is restrictive to define production in the sense of the labour factor. Relaxing the law will not increase productivity, but rather focusing on the real cause of decline in the productivity of the country.
Brenald Chinyowa writes on his own capacity, for comments & feedback inbox to firstname.lastname@example.org or cell: (0777 897 586) 0715 764 862