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Social dialogue vital

ON MAY 1/2018 , Zambia joined the rest of the world in commemorating International Labour Day under the theme “Building partnerships for sustainable national development through job creation and social justice”.
During the event workers from across the country turned out en masse to commemorate the occasion with emphasis by stakeholders on the need for employers to ensure their employees have decent pay for their work.
International Labour Day is also an opportunity for the representatives of governments, employers and workers to renew their commitment towards social dialogue as a process of achieving sustainable social and economic development.
However, the process of social dialogue cannot happen in a vacuum. In Zambia, this process takes place within institutions of labour market governance such as disciplinary committees (right to be heard); Occupational Safety, Health and Environment (OSHE) workplace committees; Bargaining Unit / Joint Negotiations Council (JNC); Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS); Tripartite Consultative Labour Council (TCLC); the Judiciary (which include the Small Claims Court, Industrial Relations Court, High Court, Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court), the Zambia Institute of Human Resource Management (ZIHRM) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
All these are institutions which allow social partners to work as managers of conflict in the workplace. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has since its inception also played an essential role in the pursuit of cooperation between governments, employers and employees in the furtherance of social justice and dialogue.
ILO defines social dialogue as “all types of negotiation, consultation, or simply exchange of information between representatives of governments, employers and workers, on issues of common interest relating to economic and social policy.”
It further adds that social dialogue takes many different forms. The process can take place in three main ways as follows: representatives of employers’ and workers’ organisations (bipartite); representatives of government, employers’ and workers organisations (tripartite); and representatives of government, employers’ and workers’ organisations and other major stakeholders in society, for instance small business, cooperative, farmer and community organisations (tripartite plus).
ILO also recognises that social dialogue is based on freedom of association, and the right to collective bargaining takes into account each country’s cultural, historical, economic, industrial relations systems and political context and thus varies from country to country. However, adapting social dialogue to the national situation is important in ensuring local ownership of the process.
Employers and workers’ organisations are critical actors in the social dialogue process and are essential in achieving industrial harmony and economic and social stability.
Therefore, the failure of social dialogue in many instances manifests itself in persistent grievances, disputes, boycotts, strikes and the loss of productivity.
Industrial strikes or boycotts are an example of the failure of social dialogue on both sides of the parties to the social dialogue process.
Thus, for the effective social dialogue to take place, each party to the process must play its role effectively.
Government also has a critical role to play in the process of achieving social dialogue through the visible commitment and confidence in the consultation process and encouragement of participation of social partners in policy-making processes; the promotion and enforcement of appropriate legal framework to ensure freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and independence of social partners, including the establishment of and support of suitable platforms or institutions for social dialogue.
The benefits of social dialogue for a country like Zambia are immense. The strengthening of the process can contribute to sound governance, inclusive growth and sustainable development.
For instance, in a democratic society, unilateral action by the government can be met by resistance including strikes, protests, boycotts or quests for judicial review of the constitutionality of the measures imposed.
Therefore, it is important that employers’ and workers’ organisations feel satisfied that employers are genuinely willing to obtain their views and intend to take heed of them.
Listening to and having dialogue with representatives of workers and employers demonstrate the government’s willingness to take into account the needs of those concerned by its decisions. Subsequently, workers and employers feel more empowered in the political process.
This is essential in improving the chances of buy-in (ownership) and the effective implementation of the measures and policies by both the government and its social partners.
In conclusion, successful social dialogue processes have the potential to resolve important economic and social issues and advance social and industrial peace and stability.
Through social dialogue, misunderstandings between or among groups can be minimised and tensions are easier to manage. Social dialogue can play a central role in mediating social conflicts and in finding trade-offs between divergent economic and social interests.
Therefore, working to achieve social dialogue by all actors in the process would be the best way of achieving the theme for this year’s International Labour Day: “Building partnerships for sustainable national development through job creation and social justice.”
The author is a social commentator and blogger.