Tanzania: Reactions against new labour law

The new labour laws to be implemented soon will make it increasingly difficult for workers to exercise the right to strike because conditions imposed are too stringent.

The Employment and Labour Relations Act, No.6 of 2004 pending to be gazetted, gives workers the right to strike on disputes of interests on the one hand, and indirectly denies it on the other.

Section 75 of the Act gives employees the right to strike but the right should be in line with limitations stated below, which observers say are too severe.

Speaking to The Express yesterday, a Labour Officer at the Regional Labour Office who sought to remain anonymous on the grounds that he is not the spokesperson, admitted that the new laws are one sided, basically favouring employers and suppressing employees rights. He said workers strike for a variety of reasons, but the mostly for economic reasons such as poor remuneration, poor working tools, an unfavourable working environment, lack of motivation and dissatisfaction.

He further said that the new law provided no grounds for employees to embark on a conflict of rights.

The new law defines a strike as “a total or partial stoppage of work by employees if the stoppage is to compel their employer to accept, modify or abandon any demands that may form the subject matter of dispute of interest.”

Section 80 stipulates that before engaging in a strike, workers should ensure that the dispute is of interest and that the dispute has gone through mediation and remains unresolved after mediation. The law also calls for a trade union to approve the strike through a ballot conducted under union constitutions.

The prevailing legal discrepancy is costly to the employees especially when engaging in disputes, because failure to meet the conditions necessary to the strike might be taken to mean violation of laws, therefore civil or criminal proceeding might be taken against them. Analysts who spoke to The Express on Tuesday, said that the conditions for calling a strike have been made strict deliberately to prevent more strikes, in the wake of massive strikes similar to the one which involved interns at Muhimbili National Hospital in June.

In an interview with The Express yesterday, Senior Lecturer with the University of Dar es Salaam, Prof. Issa Shivji, said the Employment and Labour Relations Act allows the right to strike on the one hand, and indirectly takes away the right by imposing strict conditions, which workers must follow before they strike.

A lawyer with the Association of Tanzania Employers, Anthony Mseke, said that most strikes which are held in most institutions in the country are illegal, because the strikers fail to comply with the procedures for making the strikes legitimate as instructed by the laws.

He said the workers should not just strike unilaterally without involving a trade union, which in this case has the mandate to approve the strike by casting ballots.

The trend of strikes in Tanzania is alarming. In June the police were forced to intervene in a riot at Karibu Textile mills factory, in which workers were engaging in industrial action because of alleged poor remuneration.

Disgruntled workers assembled outside the factory’s main gate and started throwing stones at the interior, while shouting slogans against the management, which responded by calling the police.

Again in August, about 600 casual workers with Dar es Salaam-based Shelys Pharmaceuticals Limited went on strike, to press for better pay and working conditions.

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