Monday, 17 August 2015

Labour Bill Now In Parlie

DEBATE on the much-awaited Labour Amendment Bill, which seeks to repeal common law provisions that have been used by employers to fire workers on three months’ notice starts in Parliament today, as analysts expressed mixed feelings over the Bill. Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira confirmed she will present the Bill in the National Assembly today.

‘‘We expect it to go through the readings tomorrow (today), then Thursday Senate,’’ Minister Mupfumira said.

Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe chief executive officer Mr John Mufukare said they would meet today to come up with a position on the Bill.
MINISTER of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Prisca Mupfumira addresses journalists at a Press conference while the permanent secretary Mr Ngoni Masoka looks on.
“Business is holding a meeting tomorrow (today) to come up with a reaction to Labour Amendment Bill HB 7 of 2015,” he said.

“We did, however, a thorough assessment of the Bill and came up with our proposals, but it doesn’t appear that any of the recommendations we made were taken on board.”

Mr Mufukare said most firms would not be able to afford paying compensation to the dismissed workers as provided for by the Bill.

“We are starting from the premise that we want to attract investment both foreign and domestic as articulated by His Excellency President Mugabe in his Defence Forces Day speech,” he said.

“Forcing enterprises to keep artificial manning levels is not going to assist in attracting investment.

“We would like to point out that many enterprises virtually started afresh with dollarisation in 2009 and therefore adding obligations incurred during the Zimbabwe dollar era will only cause the collapse of those that were teetering on the edge.”

But lawyer and International Socialist Organisation general coordinator Mr Munyaradzi Gwisai, said the Bill would worsen the plight of workers.

Writing on his Facebook wall yesterday, Mr Gwisai said more jobs would be lost because of the provisions of the Bill.

“The Labour Amendment Bill, 2015 gazetted on Friday 14 August 2015 is a deceptive, dangerous and neo-liberal legislation that will escalate the loss of jobs by workers, not just for today but well into the future,” he said.

“The supposed reprieve it gives the 20 000 dismissed workers is cosmetic. They will now get a retrenchment package, but only of two weeks’ salary for every year of service. This means a worker of six years service will only get three months salary. So, what is the difference with what the Supreme Court ruled in Nyamande and Donga vs Zuva Petroleum (Pvt) Ltd?

“Whereas currently, where workers and employers disagreed in the Works Council, the dispute was referred to the Retrenchment Board. The Board on average gave a retrenchment package of one to two months salary as service pay; plus three to six months as severance pay; plus one month salary as relocation allowance.

“The first version of the Bill had provided that Works Councils and Employment Councils were to prescribe standard retrenchment packages. But this has been removed under HB7 of 2015, which states that in case of disagreement, all the employer has to pay is service pay of two weeks for every year of service, but no severance pay or relocation allowance.”

Prominent labour lawyer Mr Caleb Mucheche disputed that the Bill would negatively affect workers, saying it protected both the employer and employees’ interests.

“The common law right of employers to unilaterally terminate contract of employment has been abolished under Section 12 of the Bill,” he said.

“The catch is why would the legislation be backdated to July 17 (when the Supreme Court made the common law ruling?) The net effect is that it overrides the Supreme Court ruling and brings relief to the workers who were affected so that on top of the three months’ notice salary they also get the minimum package as prescribed in Section 12 (c) (ii) of the Bill.”

Section 12 (c) (ii) sets the minimum retrenchment package at two weeks’ salary for every year served although employers and employees can negotiate a higher package.

Mr Mucheche said employers were also protected by having a minimum retrenchment package, arguing that in the past, workers were getting higher packages than what is prescribed in the Bill.

“The minimum package protects employers,” he said. “Actually, what Zimbabwe has done is to follow the South African model which says two weeks salary for every year served. In the past, employees ended up getting huge packages which some companies could not afford.

“In the Bill, the employers are also allowed to pay below the minimum threshold by applying to the retrenchment board or the employment council as contained under Section 12 (3).”

At least 20 000 people have lost their jobs following the July 17 Supreme Court ruling which allowed employers to terminate a workers’ contracts on three months notice.
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