LABOUR minister Sekai Nzenza has told Senate that the Tripartite Negotiating Forum Bill, which she says will be signed into law tomorrow by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, will outlaw stayaways or strikes before exhausting negotiation channels with government and other stakeholders.
By Veneranda Langa/Nqobani Ndlovu
This comes as government is facing a restive workforce, with the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) declaring a deadlock with government over salaries and issuing a 14-day notice to their employer, Health Services Board (HSB), for industrial action.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions also issued similar threats, demanding solutions to the worsening economic crisis that seen inflation rise to its highest in a decade at 75,86% in April, eroding incomes and savings.
“There is a new Bill that is going to be introduced soon known as the Tripartite Negotiation Forum Bill, which will assist government in ensuring that there are no stayaways before negotiations between government and its workers,” Nzenza said, responding to a question last week by Senator Langton Chikukwa, who wanted to know how government was dealing with threats on labour unrest by teachers.
“This Bill will be signed by the President on Wednesday, and it is a new initiative that was introduced that workers and government engage in negotiations and also with the Apex Council, and workers can no longer engage in stayaways before engaging the TNF stakeholders.”
While ZCTU has been calling for the TNF Bill to be signed into law, it is unlikely to be impressed by the move by government to outlaw industrial action, as the country faces a myriad of problems.
The southern African nation’s local RTGS currency is sliding fast, falling by 91% on the black market and 121% on the official interbank market since its introduction in February this year.
A second fuel price increase, by nearly 50% last month following a 150% rise in January, has led to more price increases and increased anger against Mnangagwa’s administration.
Shortages of hard currency and medicines continue to bite an economy struggling to recover from a drought-induced poor harvest and effects of the devastating Cyclone Idai that ravaged the country’s eastern parts and killed 347 people.
The country is in the throes of a power crisis that sees industry and households going for up to 10 hours without electricity.
Since last week, government has maintained an unusually heavy police presence in Harare’s central business district in readiness for possible mass protests.
In Bulawayo yesterday, police accompanied by water cannons went around various suburbs in Bulawayo yesterday early morning, using hailers to plead with residents to ignore social media calls for protests and report for work.
Senior Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi told NewsDay that the police actions were not particular to Bulawayo, but to all citizens across the country.
“We are doing that across the country urging members of the public to continue with their activities in a peaceful environment. We are assuring residents that police are there to ensure that they are safe, and that their security is guaranteed,” he said.
But ZCTU president Peter Mutasa said if the TNF Bill did outlaw stayaways, it would be in violation of the Constitution.
“The Constitution provides for the right to strike and petition, and no other law, including the TNF Bill, can be ultra vires the Constitution — and besides, there is no such clause in the TNF Bill,” Mutasa said.
“I hope that the minister did not mean to pre-empt that the Bill will take away workers’ rights to strike. Maybe she was saying the enactment of TNF will only persuade parties to dialogue before action like stay aways.”
He said currently, workers affiliated to the ZCTU and the Apex Council were engaging employers and other stakeholders in discussions about wage increases and if no satisfactory answers are yielded, then workers would engage in job action.
“Our general council’s resolutions are that we are calling government to the table, but it seems there is no movement and we are already calling workers with a view of engaging in stayaways or sit-ins, or any other concerted action,” Mutasa said.
National Consumer Rights Association (Nacora) advocacy and campaign manager Effie Ncube said the police actions betrayed a panicked government.
“It is a clear sign of panic to see the police on the streets urging people not to enjoy their right to protest as rightly enshrined in the constitution,” Ncube said.
“The State, instead of panicking, should be aiding citizens to enjoy their right to demonstrate. The only way citizens can communicate with the state to express their displeasure in between elections is through petitions, strikes and any other show of public displeasure.”
When the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Labour conducted public hearings on the TNF Bill, stakeholders noted that the platform would deal with socio-economic issues and minimise strikes.
Stakeholders also suggested that the TNF should not be chaired by government only but must be chaired on a rotational basis by the three social partners, or chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge or an individual appointed by Parliament.