The Sunday Mail

At a time when the country’s economic juggernaut is waking from its deep slumber following decades of economic stagnation, employees are having to bear the brunt of the high costs of retail goods, which is severely eroding their purchasing power.

And yet, they are not the only casualties.

Employers have found it hard to keep their employees economically comfortable as industry is also plagued by low productivity and high operating costs.

The cost of raw materials, some of which need foreign currency to be imported, does not tally well with production levels.

Therefore, both employees and companies are miffed by the high costs of production and goods.

The prevailing challenges are a culmination of low productivity in the economy.

Fortunately this is being rectified through recently introduced measures that are meant to increase production.

The Transitional Stabilisation Programme is the roadmap to the country’s speedy recovery.

But while the economy recuperates, favourable conditions of employment are of mutual interest to both the employer and employee.

Companies need happy employees if high production is to become a reality.

This is where the recently established Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) comes in.

The Forum offers a conduit to common ground for both parties.

Government recently enacted the TNF Act, which confer powers of the Forum in relation to consultation, co-operation and negotiation on social and economic issues by Government, business and labour for the purpose of arriving at mutually acceptable wages and working conditions for employees.

The Forum is hinged on binding agreements, rather than mere consultation.

What will carry industry and the labour force forward is the willingness on each side, not only to listen to the representations of the other, but to abandon fixed positions wherever possible in order to find a common ground.

In other words, objectivity, the voice of reason and fair play will carry the day as stakeholders give and take.

According to the Labour Act, negotiations are supposed to be in good faith.

However, some employers have been found wanting in this regard. Most companies are only choosing to voice their incapacity without bothering to declare their financial position.

As trust is thrown outside the window, this has resulted in the annihilation of the social contract, which ordinarily is supposed to be the glue that holds the employer/employee relationship when everything else fails.

Therefore, the TNF bargaining process should first seek to redeem the social contract.

Government has been leading from the front, as always.

Despite constrained resources, Government has been walking the talk with regards to engaging civil servants over their welfare.

Already, it has offered a 40 percent cushion for the next five months while other interventions are being considered.

Rightly so, it has been noted that monetary interventions may not always be the solution to employees’ challenges in an environment where disposable income is being eroded by unscrupulous profiteering retailers.

That is why Government has committed to heavily subsidising transport costs through ZUPCO.

A housing scheme has also been availed for civil servants.

At the company level, workers committees need to step up and bargain for favourable conditions of service. While Government is taking care of those in the civil service, those in the private sector need to do the same.

Despite the employees’ disgruntlement at a dwindling disposable income, the culture of violence, demonstrations and illegal job actions ― which is in contravention of the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01) ― died with the First Republic.

While some enemies of progress have been frantically trying to create fertile ground for instability in the country, the workers have steadfastly shunned all the mooted demonstrations.

A militant attitude and losing hours of productivity through industrial action will not put food on our tables.

It will only worsen the economic challenges and delay the beckoning economic turnaround.