ON Wednesday this week, business and labour turned over a new leaf, signing a memorandum of agreement to set up a bipartite social contract, the first time it has happened in the history of industrial relations in Zimbabwe.
In a country faced with major socio-economic crises as Zimbabwe is, this is a positive development that means two key pillars of the economy are putting their heads together to find ways of resolving challenges in ways that do not only help grow the national cake, but guarantee certain returns for the workers as well.
This development is timeous given the challenges the country is facing, which include an acute foreign currency shortage, currency distortions as a result of a depreciating Zimbabwe dollar, power outages of up to 18 hours daily and increasing levels of poverty.
The setting up of the bipartite social contract can only help resolve some of the country’s major sticking points, especially on the issue of wages.
However, there is one notable omission which speaks to the heart of the challenges this country is facing: the absence of government from the table.
Government is supposed to be a partner in the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF), but its recalcitrant attitude has rendered that body dysfunctional.
The TNF is a social dialogue platform that is supposed to bring together government, business and labour to negotiate key socioeconomic matters.
It has been in existence since 1998, initially as a voluntary and unlegislated chamber in which socioeconomic matters were discussed and negotiated by the partners.
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It was legislated in June 2019, but government has simply rendered the body inoperable. It has failed to commit to anything and often leaves its supposed partners hanging.
Its attitude to the forum, partners and the economy at large is despicable and speaks to why it is failing to tackle the many challenges the economy is facing.
Even the Bible tells us in Proverbs 15:22 that: “Plans fail when there is no consultation, but there is accomplishment through many advisers.”
Although both labour and business were at pains to point out that in setting up the bipartite social contract, they were by no means snubbing the TNF, one gets the feeling that the decision to set up this platform was borne out of the frustration of not making any headway with government in the tripartite set-up.
Labour and business have complained about the lack of sincerity of government as it continues to exclude them when making policies that have a major bearing on both constituencies.
At the Press conference on the signing of the agreement this week, the bipartite principals concurred that the TNF has fallen short in driving inclusivity and collective ownership on major national policies.