By Nicholas K. Nhimba
A lot has been said, criticism levelled against National Employment Councils (NECs) and a plethora of questions still tinker in the minds of people on the legality of NECs and whether their existence is worthwhile.
This article seeks to precisely layout the NECs’ role in the world of work, revealing their relevance in Zimbabwe’s industrial relations system.
Before NECs functions are discussed, it is critical to first understand an animal referred to as National Employment Council.
A National Employment Council (NEC) is a bipartite labour body specifically dealing with labour-related issues in a specific industry or sector.
Every National Employment Council is born of an Act of Parliament that is Labour Act (Chapter 28:01) Sections 56 and 57, and such institutions were in existence since the 1980s.
A National Employment Council has a constitution to govern and regulate its operations (Section 58 of Labour Act). It is a corporate body with the right to sue or be sued and own property as enshrined in Section 60 of the Labour Act.
The NEC falls under the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. The NEC was once known as Industrial Council since 1934 and sometimes referred to as Bargaining Council. National Employment Council consists of two equal social parties, that is Employers’ Association (a division that represents employers) and Trade Union (a division that represents employees).
The National Employment Council has a general secretariat, a division that daily runs National Employment Councils’ business and is headed by the general secretary.
Roles/functions of NEC
Collective bargaining: NEC creates a platform for collective bargaining. The Trade Union and Employers’ Association meet at NEC to negotiate conditions of employment governing a particular industry.
Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is the product of such negotiations. Such CBAs are then registered with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and subsequently promulgated into law through various statutory instruments. It is a duty of every NEC to assist members in conclusion of Collective Bargaining Agreement – Section 62(1) (a) of the Labour Act Chapter 28:01. In performing such functions the NEC will be fulfilling the international standards, that is, ILO right to organise, and Collective Bargaining Convention (C098) 1949; ILO Collective Bargaining Convention C154, 1981.
Dispute resolution: Relationships are characterised by disputes that are inevitable, with no exception to an employment relationship. According Section 62(1)(a) of the Labour Act, NEC has a duty to settle disputes. Both disputes of rights and interests referred to NEC are resolved. Dispute resolution is done through conciliation in terms of Section 93 of Labour Act. Settlements can be reached, where necessary draft rulings are made as per Section 93(5) (c) of the Labour Amendment 5/15.
At NEC disputes are also resolved by arbitration, where unresolved disputes at conciliation are referred to arbitration, with arbitral award made by designated agents who are appointed arbitrators. The NECs have conciliators and arbitrators acquainted with adequate labour knowledge, and are equal to the task. Conciliation and arbitration are done in fulfilment of ILO Recommendation (R092) Voluntary Conciliation and Arbitration Recommendation 1951.
Labour inspection: Institutional visits for the purpose of checking and ascertaining labour law and regulations compliance are done by NEC-designated agents accordingly.
The inspections are done to check compliance, advice industrial members on new legislation, to carry out training need assessment and as a proactive measure to prevent disputes from happening. The recommendations are then made after an inspection, to redress the observed anomalies. Inspections are carried out in fulfilment of Labour Inspection Convention (C081) 1947 – to secure enforcement of legal provisions relating to work, supply technical information and advice to workers and employers and bring note to competent authority of defects and abuses not specifically covered by existing legal provisions.
Labour education, training and provision of labour advice: Knowledge is power. Biblically “My people perish for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). It is the NEC mandate to empower, impart labour knowledge to members through training and workshops. Members are provided with affordable, informed labour advice and training in the industry with industrial labour experts. It is the function of NEC designated agent under Section 63(3) (a) of the Labour Act to have accessibility for advice and assistance of workers in relation to rights at work.
Dispute prevention: Section 62(1) (a) Labour Act Chapter 28:01 – NEC is there to prevent disputes from happening. Through advice giving, training and inspections done in respective industries, disputes can be prevented and minimised.
Appeals and grievances processing: Unresolved appeals and grievances in the industry are referred to respective NECs. The NEC has respective Appeals/ Grievance Committees to professionally, legally and adequately deal with the appeals and grievances in a bid to resolve them.
Exemptions processing: It is NEC’s industrial sole duty to process exemptions by either granting or rejecting an applied exemption. The NEC exemption processing is two-fold. It is NEC’s duty to grant exemption to an employer failing to meet the general minimum prescribed working conditions. Also NEC can process exemption on the payment of retrenchment package if employer alleges financial incapacity and inability to pay minimum retrenchment package as provided for in Section 12(c ) (3) & (4) Labour Amendment 5 of 2015.
Enforcement of labour law/legislation: The NEC enforces labour regulations by suing any member engaging in unfair labour practice and drag them to relevant courts, who have jurisdiction to adjudicate on labour matters.
In a nutshell, in the backdrop of a Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare incapacitated with inadequate resources to service all industrial relations, NECs are vital institutions for industrial democracy, peace and harmony.
NECs are not passive organisations. In view of the above discussion, the NEC existence in the world of work is worthwhile.
The NECs should be supported and be given enabling an environment. Accordingly, they will effectively and efficiently perform their legal man date.
Nicholas K. Nhimba is a labour academic, researcher and human resources and labour practitioner. He writes in his capacity as a HR and labour practitioner.