Employers, employees need each other

HARARE - Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) president and Sable Chemicals’ chief executive officer — Jack Murehwa — has rallied his troops and labour to have a common vision to sustain business as companies continue to choke under the stressful economic environment. Read on his interview with Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki.

Q: What happened to the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) which existed before 2000?

A: The TNF is a social dialogue platform at which government, business and labour will discuss the most important issues facing the nation and explore ways of addressing those issues as a threesome.

The concept of the TNF was deliberately created as a tripartite with the understanding that government regulates the economy, business and labour create the national wealth, hence the term social partners.

At the core of issues to be discussed is the national economy. If the economy is performing well, then the focus will be on how we can do even better and there will hardly be any problematic issues to resolve.

The extent of issues to be resolved will tend to increase in an inverse proportion to the performance of the economy.

In other words, the more difficulties our economy seems to have, the more issues there will be to resolve.

The ultimate agreed positions among the social partners result in a social contract(s) in which each partner subordinates their sectoral interests for the good of the nation. In all cases, for the countries that have managed to commit themselves to the social contracts, the benefits have been noticeable.

The TNF has not had a sitting for some time now and one important element learnt from the previous sittings is the need for social partners to fully appreciate that they have to subordinate their sectoral interests for the national good.

Q: Would you describe its role then?

A: The TNF is a genuine attempt to come up with inclusive policies that would turn around Zimbabwe’s economy and national fortunes.

This will be done in stages, by taking contentious issues and addressing them in a holistic manner given the name of a protocol. A protocol would identify the problem, research ways of resolving it, negotiate the best way to proceed and this will, in the end, be presented to Cabinet for adoption and implementation.

Several protocols, eg on incomes and prices stabilisation and foreign currency were negotiated and signed during the previous sessions although implementation is still to be effected.

Q: Will we see its revival and at what stage?

A: We believe that a broad-based approach to resolving the problems besetting the economy is a win-win for all the social partners.

For that reason, we are confident that the government will expedite the passing of the TNF Bill.

This will be a necessary step towards formalising the TNF structure into a legal arrangement.

Q: How do you describe the current state of affairs within the employers’ industry and how does the obtaining environment impact on the relationship between business and labour?

A: Emcoz leads the business delegation at the TNF and we believe that it would benefit the country if the TNF could be reconstituted as soon as possible to focus in addressing the urgent economic issues confronting the nation. Whilst we may not always agree with labour, we have a constructive working relationship with the leadership.

Q: What is the role of Emcoz and how many members do you have?

A: The role of Emcoz is summarised in its moto: “To promote and protect the interests of employers for the good of the nation”. It does this by engaging the other two social partners, government and labour, to create an environment that promotes and encourages business activity.

Ordinary members of Emcoz are the 45 employer associations registered with the ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Services. As at January, 2013, there were also 160 corporates who were affiliate members of Emcoz.

Q: Why is it that there is no shared vision between employers and labour in difficult times such as the prevailing one?

A: This is an inappropriate assertion. What may be true, however, is that labour is certainly the loudest in communicating their points across to the other social partners.

Emcoz can confirm that there are a lot of sectors and enterprises where employers and workers have realised that survival depends on shared visions and they are implementing those shared visions.

The Collective Bargaining Summit for 2014 recently held in Victoria Falls is one such example.

Having said that, Emcoz is not suggesting that we are always in agreement with labour.

Areas of disagreement may exist but we are satisfied that the extent of our areas of common ground far exceed the extent of areas where we may differ.

Q: What is your preferred approach to wage negotiations in the current circumstances?

A: Emcoz prefers professionally-conducted collective bargaining negotiations whose outcomes are equitable and at the same time sustain and grow businesses.

We are very impressed with the Swedish Model of collective bargaining negotiations and would like to share that with NECs.

Employers and employees need each other if business is to be sustained for the benefit of the nation.

Q: What role can government play in this obtaining environment?

A: Our nation now seems to be engulfed in a culture of entitlement.

This culture does not build. It is engrossed with sharing that which is available. Everybody’s share gets smaller and smaller and the economy and nation stagnates.

The government’s emphasis on empowerment must encourage, innovation, growing the cake, building new business and making sure that the existing businesses and enterprises have the necessary environment to grow bigger.

We encourage the government to emphasise the need for hard, effective and productive work so that we grow the cake further.

We want the government to emphasise wealth creation to all participants in the economy.

Q: Employers, at least judging by the records, have dismal labour relations which cost them millions in labour disputes. How do you relate to the Labour Act?

A: I am not sure about the situation where you work or are employed. But certainly this is a sad generalisation of serious magnitude.

It is true that some employers have poor labour relations and indeed, they are paying for it and this is what you get to hear and report about because that is what is newsworthy.

The majority of employers are professionals and they adequately and correctly follow the provisions of our labour laws. Sadly for you, this is not worthwhile news.

Having said that, Emcoz are aware of the need to constantly raise the awareness in employers about the country’s labour laws.

We will therefore be hosting monthly briefings on the Labour Act in 2014 to our members.

Q: Does the current Labour Act adequately address issues of fair practice and dispute resolution without upsetting the employer or employee relationship?

A: According to the Labour Act, (Chapter 28:01), 2007, the purpose of the Labour Act is “...to declare and define the fundamental rights of employees...”

Emcoz are of the opinion that the Act is heavily skewed towards the employee that fair practice becomes a challenge.

The employer or employee relationship is skewed towards the employee as virtually all discretionary powers have been removed from the employer.

It is a fact, for example, that some enterprises could have survived a turbulent period of their existence had it been possible work out solutions around the cost of labour.

Because of the difficulties with the skewed labour laws, many enterprises are just closing their doors or opting for liquidation.

Obviously this untenable situation, emanating from the skewed provisions of the current labour laws, ends up costing all the social partners — government, business and labour.

Q: What is the best prescription to current economic problems?

A: As a country, we need to adopt regional best practices in our labour market and as appropriate, go far afield and adopt best practices from anywhere in the world.

Once we have done that, our competitiveness will most certainly improve and so will our economy.

At the macro level, consistent pronunciation of our country polices from every quarter and organ will fully inform current and prospective economic players of what to expect.

Q: What is your take on the 2014 National Budget?

A: The 2014 National Budget, of necessity, had to be a package. We are concerned that we have a budget which economists feel is largely unfunded.

It acknowledges the need for increased foreign direct investment and at the same time reiterates that the indigenisation regulations, which most investors have expressed grave concern about, are not negotiable.

We are concerned that 70 percent of the budget is allocated to recurrent expenditure and that more than 80 percent of the income is going to come from direct taxation.

We are encouraged that the minister recognises the need for labour market flexibility and anxiously await action on that front.

We are disappointed that the tax regime has not done enough to boost aggregate demand and thus kick start the economy.

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