HARARE, August 18 (The Source) – Zimbabwe’s parliament on Tuesday overturned an adverse report by its legal committee, which argued against the retrospective application of proposed changes to the Labour Act, as both major parties railroaded amendments to the law that labour experts say will leave it open to challenge and adds more confusion.
The Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC), made up of Fortune Chasi (ZANU-PF), Jonathan Samkange (ZANU-PF) and Jessie Majome (MDC-T) and which is required to give its opinion on the constitutionality of proposed legislation, had unanimously passed an opinion that found the retrospective effect of the proposed changes to be defective.
Clause 18 of the proposed labour law amendments would have the effect of revoking the rights of employers to terminate job contracts on notice, as upheld by a July 17 Supreme Court ruling.
Labour unions say about 20,000 people have lost their jobs since the ruling and have urged the government to extend protection to those affected.
“The clause provides for the retrospective application of section 12 of the Act to every employee whose services were terminated on three months’ notice on or after the 17th of July. The committee unanimously agreed that the clause violates section 3(2) (e) of the Constitution regarding the separation of powers in that the judgment made by the Judiciary was correct at law and in seeking to nullify that by an insertion of the retrospective clause, Parliament will have violated the principle of separation of powers,” the PLC found.
“Additionally, since the employers acted from the correct position at law, and having vested rights in terms of the Act, applying the retrospective positions in the clause would be punitive on the employer and violates section 56 of the Constitution relating to equal protection of the law.”
However, parliament voted to override the PLC, after lawmakers from both sides of the aisle fell over each other to condemn the committee’s adverse report.
Labour Minister Priscah Mupfumira then proceeded to rifle through the first and second readings, with the relevant labour and public service portfolio committee also presenting its report and endorsing the Bill.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the country’s main labour body, gave a mixed review of the proposed labour law amendments.
“The bill is progressive in restoring the rights of workers eroded by the Supreme Court judgment of 17 July 2015. The provision has a retrospective application and employers who cannot reinstate are compelled to pay compensation to the employee of two weeks’ pay or wages for each year served,” ZCTU said in its commentary on the Bill.
The union, however, argues the compensation is inadequate, and also criticizes the Bill for ignoring “commitments Zimbabwe made to the International Labour Organisation concerning alignment of some provisions of the Labour Act to ratified convention, in particular the right to collective bargaining and freedom of association.”
The ZCTU also criticizes the Bill for “attempting to strengthen ministerial interference in employment councils, trade unions and employers’ organizations.”
But labour lawyer Selby Hwacha described Parliament’s move as ‘highly unusual and controversial.’
“Those amendments are very much open to challenge, not only because the Parliament’s own legal committee finds the proposals against the constitution, but for also for the impracticality of what it purports to do. Employers cannot be asked to compensate workers that have been retrenched legally at law or be punished for exercising a right that existed constitutionally, it’s like building an enclosure for a horse that has bolted,” he told The Source.
“More pertinently, this matter needs to find closure for the sake of the economy’s productive sectors so that they can move on and what Parliament has done instead is to create more controversy that will leave everybody in limbo.”