17 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Cry the Beloved Workplace


Public and private sector workers are at loggerheads with employers over the latter's failure to honour collective bargaining agreements. Government has failed to effect the 5,5 percent inflation-related salary increment it promised to award civil servants this month as promised in the 2013 National Budget.

This has caused dissatisfaction in the civil servants who are now threatening to go on industrial action.

Labour disputes concerning remuneration and working conditions have also rocked Crest Poultry Group, EasiPark Holdings and Chitungwiza town.

Workers in the private sector are accusing their respective National Employment Councils of "dining with the employers" and failing to enforce CBAs.

Questions have ultimately been asked why the impasse between the employers and workers continue to intensify year after year. Indications are that the employers are failing to honour CBAs they entered into with the workers, hence protracted disgruntlement.

Labour analysts have questioned the logic behind salary negotiations before previous agreements have been implemented, as both Government and private sectors have ignored implementing agreements.

Employers have also been blamed for failing to disclose full information during deliberations, which is in contravention of labour laws.

The workers have lately been pointing out to the difference between slavery and employment as ultimately being the payment of agreed wages.

Employers on the other hand argue that the operating models of most companies continue to reflect excesses of the Zimbabwe dollar era that exhibited low productivity, high operational costs and inefficient manpower structures. Surprisingly, many companies have filed for bankruptcy since dollarisation of the economy in 2009 compared to the hyperinflation period up to 2008.

Companies point out that unlike the Zimdollar era where real wages were close to nothing, the dollarised environment had brought about real costs from the wages perspective.

Most companies now claim to realise that they have excess labour whose productivity is very low.

Wage expectations are not being met even though corporate revenues have been increasing in general.

This is because the productivity per employee is said to be lagging behind the increases in operation cost.

Employers continue to describe Zimbabwe's labour laws as being archaic and tending to over protect the workers at the expense of the solvency of the companies that employ them.

Yet the same employers flout the same labour laws with impunity, and some getting away with it.

Workers have been accused of engaging in illegal collective job actions that are in contravention of the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01).

Collective bargaining is a topical and hot issue in Zimbabwe since the early days of inflation to date.

In the Zimbabwean context, it is synonymous with negotiations for salary increments, or the term "salary increase."

The majority of Zimbabweans cannot distinguish the two or whether such are one and the same thing, or the other an integral part of the other (such as salary increment and collective bargaining).

Collective bargaining is a process of negotiation between management and the NEC or union representatives for the purpose of arriving at mutually acceptable wages and working conditions for employees.

The key factors of collective bargaining are that its objective is agreement and is unlike mere consultation.

It assumes willingness on each side not only to listen to the representations of the other, but to abandon fixed positions where possible in order to find common ground. Collective bargaining requires objectivity as opposed to subjectivity, an d also requires the voice of reason and fair play.

The bargaining process is at most negative and involves a struggle of give and take on most issues.

The partnership style of bargaining is more modern, and strives for mutual understanding and common education on the part of both labour and management.

It emphasises on each side's being aware of its issues concerning the other side, and is also called "interest" based bargaining. A bargaining agenda mainly comprises of wages, hours of work, grievances procedures, leave days and vacation, union membership and job security -- mainly evaluation, promotion and lay-offs.

The agenda also focuses on deductions, occupational safety and allowances among many others that are naturally lengthy and exhaustive.

However, in Zimbabwe controversy in collective bargaining in recent years has been on the salary issue.

The legal framework for collective bargaining is provided by Section 75 of the Labour Act.

It provides for the obligation to negotiate in good faith and employers have been found wanting. Section 76 provides for the duty to fully disclose when financial incapacity is alleged, and again employers have been found wanting.

Collective bargaining in Zimbabwe has faced many challenges because the country has undergone a unique phase in the history of labour due to hyper-inflation.

It has given both employers and workers headaches, while the years 2010 and 2011 were years of hangovers of economic instability.

Under the hyper-inflation environment, negotiations were done on a quarterly basis. By the end of 2007, it was almost on a weekly basis, a marked departure from the legal previous norm of once a year.

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