Amendments to Zimbabwe’s labour and criminal law codification to include what is popularly known as the Patriotic Act have been described as bad for business and workers’ rights to protest under President Emerson Mnangagwa who faces opposition leader Nelson Chamisa in next month’s key election.

Zimbabwe has been on a drive to woo back international investment and to re-engage with the international community after the West imposed sanctions for alleged human rights abuses.

Mnangagwa’s administration is now penalising Zimbabwean individuals and other entities that campaign for the imposition of sanctions. Economists say elections scheduled for next month will likely be decided on economic policy grounds amid a tight liquidity squeeze.

Mnangagwa signed the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act Amendment into law on Friday. It makes it illegal for any Zimbabwean individual or entity to “actively partake” in “any meeting” that is physical or virtual with the intention of advocating the imposition of a trade embargo or restrictive measures by a foreign entity.

It classifies “economic sanctions or trade boycott” that may be imposed by a foreign entity through the participation of any Zimbabwean individual or organisation as “any law or binding direction by a foreign government prohibiting persons subject to its jurisdiction from investing in Zimbabwe or from engaging in any economic activity in” or with Zimbabwe.

Europe, the UK and the US have current or previous restrictions on Zimbabwean corporate entities and individuals, while others have been dropped in the past few months. Some international banks have also had to terminate correspondent banking partnerships with Zimbabwe.

The US Office for Foreign Assets Control imposed hefty penalties on some finance institutions such as CBZ and Barclays Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa blames these sanctions for Zimbabwe’s poor economic conditions. Opposition parties in Zimbabwe and human rights campaigners say Mnangagwa should implement electoral reforms, restore human rights and root out corruption that they allege is grounding the economy, which, according to Zimstat data released last week, grew by around 6% in 2022.

The US Embassy in Zimbabwe said the “new legislation undercuts Zimbabwe’s international re-engagement efforts and was bad for business”.

The UK’s representative office in Harare said the new law had “serious implications for Zimbabweans’ ability to exercise freedom of expression” and association.

Mnangagwa also signed the Labour Amendment Act into law on Friday, which has removed employers’ discretion to dismiss employees on three months’ notice.

The new labour law now stipulates that a contract of employment may only be terminated by an employee’s resignation or retirement and by mutual agreement in writing between the two parties as well as for a breach of contract.

Labour union the Zimbabwe Congress Trade of Unions (ZCTU) said Zimbabwean companies were opposed to this statute. However, other labour unionists said the new labour law made it “difficult for unions to stage protests against employers that include the government through lengthy and cumbersome dispute resolution” mechanisms.

The new labour act says a workers’ representative grouping or individual employees that recommend or advise any collective action against an essential or any other service shall be guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment up to five years or one year respectively.

Government workers’ unions said this was likely to “whittle down workers’ rights to protest against the government” whose working conditions and pay “have impoverished” civil servants.

The government and its employees are currently locked in negotiations for a wage increase, although the civil servants say the US$50 (R903) wage increase is too low. — NewZimbabwe

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