By Alois Vinga
THE International Labour Organisation(ILO)’s Committee of Experts has condemned sections of Zimbabwe’s Labour Amendment Act of 2015, saying they impeded workers’ freedom and rights.
This follows complaints by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the International Trade Union Confederation to ILO in September 2014 and in August and September of 2015 in line with article 26 of the ILO constitution.
The Committee of Experts was set up in 1926 to provide an impartial and technical evaluation of the state of application of ILO standards.
Presided over by 20 jurists, the committee examines the growing number of reports from governments on ratified conventions.
The committee’s findings on the recently amended Labour Act indicate that government needs to bring the relevant legislative texts into line with ILO conventions.
It was also advised that all anti-labour practices such as the arrest of labour activists, detentions, violence, torture, intimidation and harassment, interference and discrimination of labour unions must cease with immediate effect.
The report also urges government to desist from deploying the Zimbabwe Republic Police to frustrate trade union activities.
This observation was made with reference to the ban of three ZCTU countrywide marches on April 11 and August 8 last year.
ZCTU had intended to protest against the dismissal of some 20 000 workers by employers who had used the July 17, 2015 Supreme Court ruling to fire their workers on three months’ notice.
The committee report reiterated that the right to demonstrate should not be arbitrarily denied and pieces of law such as the Public Order and Security Act should not be used to infringe upon legitimate trade union rights including the right of workers’ organisations to express their views on government’s economic and social policies.
Government has also been advised to respect Section 65 of the new Constitution which guarantees collective bargaining rights for all employees.
The committee recommended the removal of Section 79(2)(b) and (c) of the Labour Act which states that public authorities may refuse to register a collective agreement if it is contrary to “public interest”.
Noting with concern the adoption of Section 79(2)(b), the committee said the discretionary power of the authorities to approve collective agreements is contrary to the principle of voluntary bargaining as enshrined in Article 4 of the ILO Convention.
The committee also recommended that Section 55 of the Labour Amendment Act be deleted entirely.
This section grants the Minister of Labour the authority to interfere with the administration of trade unions by limiting the salaries and allowances that may be paid to employees of trade unions.
Under this section the minister can decide the staff that may be employed and the equipment and property that may be purchased by trade unions. This clause, however, contradicts ILO Convention C87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise.
Contacted for comment, the social partners from labour, business and government expressed mixed reactions over the committee’s findings.
Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe president Joseph Kahwema was optimistic that the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) would arrive at a workable conclusion on the matter.
“The labour reform bill is currently being supervised with full participation from all TNF members and we are hoping for some win-win result,” he said.
ZCTU’s legal advisor, Zakeyo Mutimutema, applauded in the global labour organ for confirming the ills that had been noted by the country’s employees.
“We are humbled by the relevant responses made by ILO. These emanated from the complaints made by the ZCTU following the July 17 Constitutional Court ruling and we hope that the recommendations would be implemented immediately,” said Mutimutema.
Precious Sibiya, legal advisor in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare hinted that because the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, the interpretation of the Labour Act was subject to the national charter.
“For emphasis, it is reiterated that the Constitution provides irrefutable proof that significant strides continue to be made to implement all ratified ILO conventions. On February 12 this year the Ministry established a tripartite Labour Law Advisory Council in terms of the Labour Act and tripartite agreement of 28 January 2016. The government is therefore fully engaged with social partners to agree on the amendments to be made to the Labour Act. The outcome of this engagement will be publicly advised once TNF partners finalise the negotiations,” Sibiya explained.
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