The recent Labour Court of Zimbabwe judgment in DGL Investments Number 5 (Pvt) Ltd v Martin Ndlovu and Another Judgment No. LC/MT/70/23 by the Labour Court Judge Hon. Moya-Matshanga based at Bulawayo dated 15 November 2023 creates some far reaching serious practical challenges and potential paralysis of labour dispute resolution by way of making null and void any determination by a Designated Agent (DA) employed by a the old voluntary employment councils, for the period from 14 July 2023 when Labour Amendment Act No. 11 of 2023 was passed as law by the President and Parliament of Zimbabwe up to 15 November 2023 when that judgment was passed.
Suffice to mention that the reasoning by the Labour Court is that the repeal of the old section 56 of the Labour Act which created voluntary employment councils legally means that a designated agent who was employed by a voluntary employment council automatically ceased to have jurisdiction over labour disputes by operation of the law, with effect from 14 July 2023 when that old law was repealed.
There was no automatic legal transition and acquisition of jurisdiction by a designated agent from being employed by a voluntary employment council to being employed by the new statutory employment council created by the new section 56 of the Labour Act ushered by Labour Amendment Act No. 11 of 2023.
The new statutory employment council created by the new section 56 of the Labour Act is legally different from the old voluntary employment council which was abrogated or outlawed by the law on 14 July 2023.
Any labour determination, decision or dispute settlement by a designated agent employed by the former voluntary employment council without a new contract of employment under the new statutory employment council from 14 July 2023 to the present date until the statutory instrument is legally operationalised, is under legal spotlight and a heavy cloud as it may be up in smoke if contested, challenged or impugned by any aggrieved party as a legal nullity or null and void ab initio.
A designated agent requires a new contract of employment from a statutory employment council as the employer and new authority, mandate or credentials from the government of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare to exercise jurisdiction over any labour dispute under the new statutory employment council created by section 56 of the Labour Act.
Government of Zimbabwe is highly commended and greatly appreciated for introducing the new statutory employment council via the new section 56 of the Labour Act passed in terms of Labour Amendment Act No. 11 of 2023, to protect some vulnerable workers from exploitation, slave conditions of work and enhancing the employees’ legal right to collective bargaining for the improvement of minimum of conditions of employment in sync with labour rights jealously guarded in terms of section 65 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe for the promotion of fair labour practices and equitable standards of employment.
Government of Zimbabwe is humbly and respectfully encouraged to urgently operationalise the legal and administrative functions framework of the new statutory employment council created by the new re-enacted section 56 of the Labour Act to avoid stagnation of labour dispute settlement or resolution by a designated agent, existential threat of extinction of the job of a designated agent and piling of a backlog of labour disputes previously done by designated agents employed by various employment councils, before labour officers across the country.
Public interest legal opinion by Commercial and Labour Lawyer Caleb Mucheche dated 17 November 2023. Disclaimer: This legal opinion is not a substitute for seeking legal advice from a recognised legal professional.