Zero Draft Bill needs adequate consultation

Labour Matters, Davies Ndumiso Sibanda
THE circulating Labour Amendment Zero Draft Bill 2017 ousts labour consultants, independent arbitrators and reduces the scope of trade unions in labour dispute resolution while giving legal practitioners an almost complete hold of labour relations and dispute resolution management.

While I assume this Bill is still to be refined, it is saddening to note that the greater part of it does not talk to the 13 Principles as presented by the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) and it seems to be ignorant of labour relations processes that occur on the ground. For example, it now proposes the fusion of the non-managerial and managerial works council, a thing that could be disastrous from a labour relations point of view given the fact that issues discussed in two bodies are different.

While there are many questions on how the Bill came into existence without consultation of stakeholders below the TNF, it is unclear given the fact that practitioners of labour law are employers and trade unionists.

In all fairness, the Zero Bill should not be rushed but parked and stakeholders such as individual trade unions, individual employers’ associations, labour consultants, National Employment Councils and labour officers who practise labour law on a daily basis are given an opportunity to make an input.

This is in the interest of our economy as we need legislation that will create an enabling environment to do business and not one that will create fertile ground for conflict.

Moving ahead with this Bill without adequate consultation could leave us with more problems than the previous Amendment given the fact that the Bill tries to attend to the 13 Principles, throws in some best practices and at the same time tries to align the Labour Act with The Constitution.

The major challenge with the Bill in my opinion is that while it may pass the legal drafting test, it does not talk to labour relations implications on the ground.

In my opinion, if the Zero Bill is merely a working document, then it is a good starting point to kick-start debate and assist in the crafting of an Amendment that will help everybody. However, in its present state, it is not a workable document, more so given the fact that it is extinguishing jobs and denies workers affordable representation and narrows the scope of trade unions in labour matters while shutting out confederations like Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions.

The labour law environment has always been a battlefield for control between legal practitioners, lawyers, labour consultants, arbitrators, trade unions and human resources practitioners due to financial considerations and in my own opinion all these players have contributed immensely to the development of the labour relations and labour law in Zimbabwe and amongst these practitioners, they have been both brilliant and bad practitioners and as such it is not justified to close other practitioners out.

Not only are we affecting the livelihoods of the affected, we are also taking out a body of knowledge, experience and skill that the country has been building for over 30 years.

Looking at the backbone of the labour law application at the moment, the dominant players are labour consultants, labour officers, trade unionists and human resources practitioners. Legal practitioners play a fairly limited role as they are not practitioners of labour law, this is why in many universities lawyers who want to practise labour law have to take the related courses from the business school or do a post graduate qualification special labour law programme. Given the above facts, it is strange that legislation can then be made to shut out key players. If there are quality challenges the answer is regulating.

Presently, the nation relies on trade unionists, labour consultants and human resources practitioners in running the more than 30 National Employment Councils and very few of those are led by legal practitioners. Most have internal capacity made of individuals with various labour law and labour relations qualifications.

Even the Ministry of Labour nationwide up to head office level is driven by experts in labour relations and labour law who are not legal practitioners thus my surprise at the proposal to exclude all these people from representing parties in labour matters. Further, most Employers’ Associations and trade unions, which form the engine room of our quality labour relations management machinery are made of people who studied labour law and most of them double up as labour consultants.

The Bill excludes labour centre employees from representing parties and further, trade unions can only represent registered members of their own trade unions.

I find this a polite way of making sure workers do not get a fair deal as they will have no capacity to hire legal practitioners. Progressive labour law should allow for freedom of choice in representation moreso in labour forums so that the poor also can access justice represented by representatives of choice.

In conclusion, there are many other clauses that are contentious in the Zero Bill, it is my only hope that the Bill is either work in progress or a hoax that has been placed on internet.

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