The History of Zimbabwean National Employment Councils

In Zimbabwe, the provision for National Employment Councils has been there since 1980. National Employment Councils, once known as Industrial Councils, have been in existence since 1934 in some cases they were named Bargaining Councils.

In simple terms, National Employment Councils are representative bodies of employer and employee organizations. The National Employment Council is ordinarily made up of structures namely: Council, the Executive Committee, the Negotiating Committee, and a Local Joint Committee.

However, certain Collective Bargaining Agreements for specific sectors have developed structures that include exemption committees, Job Evaluation Committees, etc. Key to these structures is Designated Agents (DA) who may be conciliators and arbitrators responsible for resolving disputes in their particular industry in terms of provisions envisaged in Sections 63 and 98 of the Labour Act (Cap 28:01).

During the 1980s, the industrial relations system in Zimbabwe envisaged Employment Boards, which were under the supervision of the Minister of Public Service, Labour, and Social Welfare. During this period, the minister by way of Statutory Instruments used to gazette minimum wage notices in respect of any class of employees in any class or industry and would prohibit the payment of any wage less than such specified minimum wages, benefits, or increments to such class of employees.

This later changed during the 1990s when Employment Boards were turned into Employment Councils, the main reason being that the Ministry of Labour deemed it expedient to devolve powers on collective bargaining to specific constituencies. Ideally, the main objective was to empower Zimbabwean employer organizations and trade unions to manage their affairs, which brought about consistency between the Zimbabwe Labour Act and International Labour Conventions (ILO), which Zimbabwe ratified. To date, there are 48 National Employment Councils in Zimbabwe. Section 65 (5) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No.20) Act 2013 stipulates that: “Except for members of the security services, every employee, employer, trade union and employee or employer’s organization has the right to engage in Collective Bargaining”.

The scope of collective bargaining agreements negotiated by registered trade unions, employers or registered federations is specified in Section 74 of the Labour Act, Chapter 28:01. In most cases, Collective Bargaining Agreements are administered by National Employment Councils make provision for the following:

  • Rates of remuneration and minimum wages for different grades and types of occupations
  • Benefits for employees.
  • Deductions which an employer may make from employees’ wages, including deductions for membership fees and union dues, and deductions which an employer may be required or permitted by law or by order of any competent court to make
  • Methods of calculating, or factors for adjusting rates of pay, and the dates, times, and modes of payment
  • All issues about overtime, piece-work, periods of vacation, and vacation pay and constraints thereon
  • The demarcation of the appropriate categories and classes of employment and their respective functions
  • The conditions of employment for apprentices
  • The number of hours of work and the times of work concerning all or some of the employees
  • The requirements of occupational safety
  • The maintenance of, and access by the parties to, records of employment and pay
  • Procedure for dealing with disputes within an undertaking or industry
  • Housing and transport facilities or in their absence, an allowance for the same
  • Measures to combat workplace violence and handling its aftermath.

In the next article, we will look at exactly how the Labour Act Chapter 28:01 makes provision for Voluntary Employment Councils and Statutory Employment Councils under Sections 56 and 57 respectively. We shall also look at other representative bodies of employer and employee organizations.


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