Last week the tripartite Negotiation forum was signed into law by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and gazetted into law. The stated aims of the TNF are to bring government, organized business and organized labour together in negotiation to tackle social and economic ills. What does this new Act mean for the ordinary Zimbabwean and the Nation at large?

In spirit

The TNF has it all. Government as provider and guarantor of viable economic conditions, business as movers of capital & shapers of the nation and labour as both the suppliers of sweat equity & consumers of what business produces. So you have all the players involved sitting down together to negotiate on all manners concerning the nation. Zimbabwe’s economy is reeling. Inflation, energy challenges, foreign currency shortages, skills flight and the worry of civil unrest continue to make the future unclear for Zimbabwe.

In reality

In reality, the TNF is another dialogue. If anyone is keeping count this would be the fourth dialogue our government is engaged in with National Dialogue, the Political actors’ dialogue and the ongoing EU dialogue being the others. In a nation that has the second largest informal sector in the world according to the IMF, you start to wonder just how representative organized business is of Zimbabweans. The same can be said of organized labour. While the ILO places Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate at 5.6% the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions places that figure at 90%.

Now granted no process is flawless. However, it does help to consider exactly who is represented at some of these tables when people meet.

What problem does it solve?

The TNF creates another negotiation platform. One that brings these parties together and binds them to come together to find solutions to social and economic issues. The TNF is expected to create a social contract and submit policy recommendations or at least contributions to the cabinet. This, of course, begs the question; what have we been doing all along? Has the government embarked on policies without consultation? Or have policies failed because other parties simply were not happy with them?

The TNF is by no means a new idea. It is, in fact, older than or perhaps as old as Zimbabwe’s economic crisis first being mooted in 1998 as the economy sank into turmoil it just cannot dig itself out of. Along the way, the social contract became another buzzword used to light up speeches about government policy.

A topical issue has been the stance on the right to strike. Commentators and workers representatives have raised eyebrows over what they interpret as denying workers the right to strike. Zimbabwean law provides for striking as last resort after employees vote for a strike and allowing 30 days negotiating period. If no binding agreement is reached a strike is allowed. The TNF places another step before a strike is allowed as interpretation is that strikes cannot go ahead while negotiations are still taking place.

Does it work?

By and large, these TNF forums are used to diffuse and delay the eruption of tense situations such as the one we have in Zimbabwe. The employees have seen inflation rocket to 75% while salaries have seen only token increments.  Business continues to add their list of challenges as electricity joins an already populated list of foreign currency, fuel and infrastructure. So to that extent, it can quell the murmurings if possible civil unrest.

It will be interesting to see how much the TNF changes for the ordinary Zimbabwean. After a 20 year long road, people were born and voted in last years election since it was first mooted, the TNF is finally enacted into law. But for many, it’s likely to be business as usual.