Long-awaited labor law reforms

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

NEXT month’s public consultations by the Parliamentary Civil Service, Labor and Welfare Portfolio Committee on amendments to the Labor Act, albeit overdue, are a welcome development.

The need to finalize labor law reforms cannot be overemphasized given the importance this has for employment relations in Zimbabwe. Labor law amendments have been in the spotlight since the infamous 2015 Supreme Court ruling that allowed employers to fire workers on three months’ notice without paying severance pay, which led to the loss of their jobs by thousands of workers.

Although this clause was removed, labor law reforms since then have stalled.

As early as 2018, then Labor Minister Petronella Kagonye said finalizing labor law reforms had been a priority for her first 100 days in office.

“My ministry is at full throttle to provide the right legal framework for businesses to thrive and help the turnaround we need,” she said during a meeting with businesses in March this year.

But his words turned out to be just a load of hot air. Labor law reforms have since been bound by state bureaucracy and tossed on government bureaucratic shelves to gather dust.

That labor law reforms remain ongoing seven years after the Supreme Court ruling is a damning accusation against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa whose mantra is “Zimbabwe is open for business”.

When the Mnangagwa administration took the reins in 2017, everyone was enthusiastic about the new dispensation mantra, believing that the new government would be action-oriented.

But that was not the case. The regime has failed to finalize labor law reforms that are essential for crucial issues such as maternity leave, dismissals, wage negotiations and employer-employee relations.

We are now left with no choice but to believe the many accusations suggesting that the Mnangagwa administration is comfortable with current labor laws because they serve its interests since most if not all of the leaders have companies.

That labor law reforms should satisfy all stakeholders, including government, business and workers, but this administration seems to ignore it.

Labor law reforms are key to attracting investment. They are crucial for any investor in the decision to set up in the country and the delay in completing the reforms undoubtedly contributes to the damning statistics of the country’s investment performance.

Investment in Zimbabwe has plummeted since 2018, with foreign direct investment dropping from US$717 million to around US$150 million last year. The country has been ranked at the bottom of the Global Trade Openness Index by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

A rapid refinement of labor laws is a low-hanging fruit that the government should pick up quickly to help clarify the situation in the future.

On the one hand, Mnangagwa talks about being open for business and investment, on the other, his government continues to drag its feet to fine-tune such a critical law.

The sooner labor laws are reformed, the better the country’s chances of not only attracting investment, but also significantly improving the labor relations landscape.

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