Davies Ndumiso Sibanda
AS Zimbabwe is likely to move in a new direction focusing on economic revival, there is a need to relook at the recrafting of the Labour Act Amendment Bill so as to ensure a solid balance between preserving employee rights and ensuring that the new Labour Act is a tool for economic development and ease of doing business.
The starting point in my opinion is to first get clear direction on the new economic model the country will adopt and thereafter review the existing draft labour bill to ensure it threads well into the economic direction of the country.
The traditional approach of the tripartite negotiating forum needs to be abandoned as it leaves many stakeholders outside the tent, for example the day to day labour practitioners are not part of the crafting of the Act. They are only there to point out implementation challenges. The labour committee of Parliament will have to reach out as wide as possible to ensure that the Act that is produced helps build businesses at the same time uphold labour rights.
The Labour Court will have to go back to basics. Presently the Labour Court has ceased to be user friendly to ordinary unrepresented workers. The processes are now almost as tight as the High Court making it impossible for the ordinary worker or employer to get there. The spirit of the Labour Court should be to assist workers and employers resolve disputes at a minimal cost.
I also think there will be nothing wrong with establishing a Labour Appeal Court, which will be affordable and user friendly for business and labour. We can borrow from other countries that have gone that route. While there is a lot of controversy over the role of labour consultants in labour relations, the truth is that many of them are experts in the field of labour relations and labour resolution, installation of industrial relation systems and ensuring organisations and industries have stable employee-employer relations environment thus helping improve productivity. Given the fact that the major conflict between labour consultants and lawyers is economic, I do not see why there should be conflict but that there is a need to regulate or register labour consultants against set criteria to weed out the fly by night ones. Instead of scrapping labour arbitration, the whole process must be strengthened supported by a Labour Arbitration Act, which will detail the conduct of labour arbitration as is the case in countries like South Africa. Arbitration should not be punishing but should help ease pressure on the courts and Labour Officers at the same time help conclude labour disputes without delays.
Retrenchment principles and process will definitely need to be reviewed to ensure the process is simple and does not scare away potential investors at the same time remains fair to workers. Both employers and workers will have to also be prepared to make sacrifices as changes that will improve the economy will not come on a platter.
We have to accept that for economic recovery we need international skills and as such our labour laws must make foreign labour to be comfortable and feel safe.
In conclusion, there is a need to revisit the Labour Act so that it talks to economic recovery at the same time not trampling on workers’ rights. The whole journey will take years as it cannot be done overnight.
-Davies Ndumiso Sibanda can be contacted on: email: [email protected], or cell No: 0772 375 235