The discussion on unfair labour practices showed how potentially explosive the employment relationship between employees and employers is. The volumes upon volumes of case law for labour cases litigation proves the inherent conflicts within the employment relationship.
By MIRIAM TOSE MAJOME
The Labour Court established exclusively for labour cases litigation is testament to the inherent conflict between employers and employees. Good labour relations entail balancing the different competing interests to ensure business viability and continuous productivity. Both parties depend on the continued viability of the organisation whatever industry it may be in.
Bad labour relations result in lost hours and industrial action which results in loss of production. In extreme cases it may result in sabotage and damage to property and human casualties.
A number of conflict resolution mechanisms are prescribed, such as the recognition of legitimate labour activism and establishment of employer organisations. Each party has recourse and is entitled to pursue its own objectives and protect its own interests.
The Labour Act provides for the establishment of workers committees and trade unions and employment councils which provide communication means between employees and employers.
Preventing or frustrating trade union activities constitute an unfair labour practice. Employees have a right to join and participate in lawful labour activism and cannot be barred from them. Individual employees have a right to join and assume positions in trade unions or workers committees without fear of sanction by employers.
It is unlawful for employers to discriminate or victimise members of trade unions or works councils on the basis of their membership of those organisations. There is an ever-present fear that representative members of trade unions or workers committees are more prone to victimisation by employers.
This is because they interface more with employers during often difficult negotiations and when relations totally break down they are the face of industrial strife. The battle between employers and employees for better pay and working conditions is ongoing.
Functions of Workers Committees/ Employment Councils
Workers committees are established in terms of Section 25 of the Act. They serve to champion the protection and advancement of the rights and welfare of employees in a particular trade. They work through mobilising employees, negotiating and bargaining with employers. Employment councils are established in terms of Section 27. These are such as the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (EMCOZ). They serve to promote the interests and rights of employers through strength of numbers during negotiations with employees/trade unions.
Employer and employee organisations are the communication link between employers and employees and the platforms are vital for good labour relations. There is more effective resolution of disputes through the engagements. Where no employee or employer and individual employers and employees are left to negotiate on their own and unless the organisation if very small, this is less effective than through representative bodies.
The organisations provide their members with support and advice such as in disciplinary matters and procedures, terminations and retrenchments. The organisations have to keep abreast of industry regulations so that their activities and their members are compliant with the law.
Individual employees are less powerful in the face of employers as their bargaining position is weaker. It is expedient for employees to unite and form bigger groups with strength of numbers to compel employers to come to the negotiating table.
Collective bargaining is a continuous process of negotiating for working conditions, wages, recruitment prices, retrenchments, working conditions, disciplinary rules and procedures, benefits, terminations and everything pertaining employment conditions.
Trade unions from different sectors join together to form federations such as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions. These national labour bodies have a pervasive influence because labour is a powerful component with the potential to alter the course of national politics.
Employees are entitled to form workers’ committees to represent their interests. Managerial employees are not allowed to be appointed or elected into workers’ committees. Workers’ committees do not represent the interests of managerial employees unless it is a committee formed specifically to represent the interests and welfare of managers.
The operations and procedures of a workers’ committee are exclusively at the discretion of the workers. Managers and employers are precluded from interfering with or influencing the operations of workers’ committees.
Employers are obliged to facilitate the operations of workers’ committees by providing relevant information such as employee names and other necessary details to the workers’ committee. It is a legal requirement to provide the workers’ committee with a venue at the work premises as well as the time to conduct meetings. It is not compulsory to join workers’ committees.
Workers’ committees feed into the relevant trade unions of the particular field. If more than half the workers in a workers’ committee belong to a particular trade union all the workers who belong to that committee will belong to that trade union. Only the appointed workers’ committee or trade union has the right to represent the workers in any bargaining and negotiations with employers.
Trade unions and employer organisations may be registered with the Labour and Social Welfare ministry can collect subscriptions from its members for their activities.