Zimbabwe | Public sector unions take government to court to enforce collective bargaining

A Public Service Commission bus ferries government workers after work. Photo by Dylan Murambgi

Public sector unions are asking the court to rule that collective bargaining is constitutionally required.

Five associations representing government workers have dragged President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the Public Service Commission (PSC) to the High Court where they are seeking an order pronouncing that conditions of service for members of the civil service should be fixed through collective bargaining as provided for by the country’s constitution.

In court papers filed on December 6, the PSC and Mnangagwa are cited as first and second respondents while Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Mthuli Ncube, Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Paul Mavhima and Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi are cited as third, fourth and fifth respondents respectively.

The five workers’ applicants are the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz), Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), Educators Union of Zimbabwe (EUZ), the Zimbabwean Teachers’ Association (Zimta) and the Civil Service Employees of Zimbabwe.

Artuz secretary general, Obert Masaraure said they had reached the decision to make a legal case because civil servants in the country do not have the capacity for collecting bargaining, leaving the government to make decisions for them, which is not healthy.

The unions are raising constitutional issues which they want the court to rule on. “We have approached the High Court seeking an order pronouncing that conditions of service for members of the Civil Service including their salaries, allowances and benefits should be fixed through collective bargaining in line with Section 203 (1) (b) of the constitution,” Artuz posted on twitter this Wednesday.

They also want the court to determine whether section 19 (1) of the Public Service Act (chapter 16:04) – which gives power to the PSC and the minister of public service, labour and social welfare to unilaterally declare conditions of service without going through the collective bargaining process – is inconsistent with section 203(1) (b) as read with section 65 (5) of the constitution.

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In his founding affidavit, Zimta chief executive officer, Sifiso Ndlovu said the Public Service Joint Negotiating Council, regulation SI 141/1977 is unconstitutional. “Section 3 (1) confers on the joint council the power to negotiate salaries, allowances and conditions for members of the public service whereas such power lies with the Public Service Commission under Section 203 (1) (b) of the Constitution and subject to the provisions on collective bargaining under Section 65 (5) of the Constitution,” he states.

Ndlovu said the agreements reached at the joint council do not constitute valid collective bargaining agreements as they are mere recommendations to the minister of public service, labour and social welfare.

He said some sections of the Public Service Act are ultra vires [beyond the scope of] the constitution as they do not provide for collective bargaining.

Ndlovu said the constitution provides for the right of every employee, employer, and their organisations to engage in collective bargaining, which right government workers are currently being denied.

The respondents were given 10 days to file a notice of opposition, failure of which the application will be set down for hearing in the High Court without further notice.

The unions are represented by Matika, Gwisai and Partners

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