TNF Hits Turbulence in 2020

The Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF), which was legislated in June 2019 amid pomp and fanfare, faced major hurdles last year mainly over the issue of wages as other partners accused the government of failing to take them seriously.

The TNF is a social dialogue platform that brings 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.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Japhet Moyo told businessdigest that they were frustrated over the failure by the government to consult over policies it put in place which have a bearing on employers and workers.

“The biggest misses of the TNF in 2020 really overshadow everything. The government undermined the TNF in a big way when they bypassed the TNF when announcing socioeconomic policies that affect both workers and employers.

The NDS-1 was launched without the involvement of social partners,” Moyo said.

“The TNF failed dismally to address the contentious issue of eroded wages and high cost of living. Even the implementation of agreed positions was problematic.”

The standoff in the legislative body came to a head last year when labour boycotted the TNF meeting which was scheduled for December 17 citing the lack of seriousness by both government and business in addressing the issue of eroded wages.

“We members of organised labour made up of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions and Apex Council would like to express our displeasure with the proceedings at the Tripartite Negotiating Forum and in particular, the lack of seriousness by both government and business when it comes to the issue of addressing eroded wages and salaries crisis, hence our decision not to participate in the TNF of 17 December 2020,” Labour wrote in a letter signed by all three labour unions.

“We note that the working people of Zimbabwe have suffered immensely as wages and salaries have failed to keep pace with the inflationary trends. The situation has worsened rendering it practically impossible for workers across all sectors to earn the current salaries and sustain their families or be able to go to work. In spite of this, the TNF has failed to address the matter and it is our collective position that the TNF must find a permanent solution on the issue of eroded wages and salaries.”

They noted that what was more disturbing was that during the meeting of October 21, 2020, they insisted that the issue of wages and salaries be on the agenda but to their surprise it was not for the December 17 meeting. This, it said, was a clear sign that the government was not treating the issue with the urgency it deserves. Labour also said it was disappointed that although business was against indexing salaries and wages to the United States dollar and exchange rate, business itself was profiteering from indexing goods and services to the exchange rate.

Earlier in the year business disagreed with its TNF partners over having a national minimum wage by indexing a portion of the August 2018 poverty datum line to the exchange rate.

“This approach threatens a re-dollarisation of the economy because the US dollar becomes the point of reference for all pricing, including wages. The TNF has already agreed that the economy must run with the local currency with a proviso that the authorities will commit to local currency stabilisation and contain money supply to targeted levels,” organised business representative Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) said in its argument against the proposal. “The ghost of the US dollar which continues to influence our pricing, including wages, needs to be exorcised from our minds if the transition to local currency is to become a reality.”

Business also shot down the proposal of the TNF being involved in the collective bargaining process pointing out that the responsibility of collective bargaining lies with the national employment council (NEC).

“We wish to reiterate that the enabling legislation does not empower the TNF to engage in collective bargaining in which case the platform is reduced to a big NEC as this would be to usurp powers of NECs. The TNF Act provides for negotiation while the Labour Act provides for collective bargaining in line with ILO conventions 98 and 154,” Emcoz said.

Emcoz president Israel Murefu told businessdigest that they failed to resolve the issue last year.

“These divergent views(on national minimum wage ) have not yet been reconciled and therefore this remains an unfinished TNF agenda item,” Murefu said. “Apart from the issue of minimum wages, TNF has an objective of negotiating several protocols that will collectively culminate in a social contract and this has not yet been achieved and therefore it is something that remains outstanding.

“In addition, operating procedures for the TNF and a secretariat for the same are not yet in place although some work toward putting these in place have been done but not finalised.”

Murefu noted that although the TNF had contributed to the proposal to come up with a ZW$18 billion( about US$220 million) bailout package for businesses affected by the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown, it appears many businesses did not benefit from it because a significant portion of it was not in cash but in guarantees with banks maintaining a credit risk assessment criteria instead of allowing for concessionary lending terms.

Despite the frustrations experienced in the TNF in 2020, Murefu said the TNF was a good platform for social dialogue and should be strengthened both technically and functionally so it realised its purpose.

Moyo however said the TNF “will remain a laughing stock” which is not taken seriously until the government changes its attitude and respects its partners in the legislated body.

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