A bad law can’t be justified

via A bad law can’t be justified – NewsDay Zimbabwe August 20, 2015

The decision by the National Assembly to pass the Labour Amendment Bill despite an adverse report by the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC) was unwise and cannot be justified.

NewsDay Editorial

The Bill was necessitated by a July 17 Supreme Court ruling that gave employers the leeway to terminate workers’ contracts after giving three months’ notice.

After the ruling, employers, including government institutions, reportedly fired in excess of 20 000 without any benefits and the sackings continue unabated.

The government cobbled up the Labour Amendment Bill and President Robert Mugabe recalled Parliament from its recess to fast-track the proposed law.

The Bill gazetted last Friday created a lot of excitement because it promised recourse to the workers who lost their jobs in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling.

Labour minister Prisca Mupfumira wanted the law applied retrospectively — a very populist position considering the fact that the proposition is not permissible under the Constitution.

The PLC, made up of Fortune Chasi (Zanu PF), Jonathan Samukange (Zanu PF) and Jessie Majome (MDC-T), said as much when it issued an adverse report on the Bill.

According to the PLC report, the “Bill contained provisions that, if enacted would violate the Constitution”.

The committee singled out clause 18 of the Bill that “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 July 17”.

The committee warned that the clause violated the Constitution regarding the separation of powers and that it would needlessly punish employers who followed the law in disengaging with redundant employees.

Chasi and his committee also noted that “although Parliament has the power to legislate retrospectively, however, as much as possible, legislation should not be made in a manner which interferes with accrued rights”.

The PLC was making reference to the right accrued by employees after the Zuva Petroleum case.

However, the committee’s recommendations were thrown out as MPs from both sides of the political divide rushed to pass the Bill.
The legislators argued that the National Assembly needed to pass laws that protect workers.

There is consensus that the job cuts have to be moderated especially at government-linked institutions that have been scrambling to fire workers, but this can never be an excuse for passing a bad law.

Mupfumira has been accused of ignoring input from employers and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions as she crafted the Bill and this means that if the law is passed in its current form, it would be prone to legal challenges.

If Zanu PF succeeds in railroading the defective Bill in the Senate today before President Robert Mugabe signs it into law as was the case with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Debt Assumption Bill recently, the government would have lost a golden opportunity to bring sanity to the labour market.

The courts would be inundated with cases challenging the law before it even starts to benefit the workers it seeks to protect.
Senators have a chance today to right the wrongs of their peers in the National Assembly.

There is a need for a fine balancing act to cater for the needs of both employers and employees.

A law that seeks to punish employers would be bad for the economy and could result in a further loss of jobs as companies would simply shut down.

Legislators need to rise above populist politics and deliver a law that would stand the test of time.

Time is certainly not on the side of both the Executive and Legislature, but that should not be an excuse to knowingly promulgate a law that violates the Constitution and only offer temporary relief to besieged workers.