Everything You Need To Know About Collective Bargaining

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a voluntary process for reconciling the conflicting interests and aspirations of management and labour through the joint regulation of terms and conditions of employment. It is also a process of negotiation between management and union representative for the purpose of arriving at mutually acceptable wages and working conditions for employees.  Collective bargaining is seen as a process through which employers and employees collectively seek to reconcile their conflicting goals (including determining working conditions, regulating relations between employers and workers and regulating relations between employers or their organizations and workers organization) through a process of mutual accommodation.

Historical background to collective bargaining in Zimbabwe

The Industrial Conciliations Act established the foundation of collective bargaining in Zimbabwe. The 1959 Industrial Conciliation Act was a major hallmark in industrial relations as the first genuine piece of legislation not only to allow the formation of black unions, but to provide a wage setting machinery by setting the parameters for collective bargaining as well as the development of Industrial Boards and Industrial Councils. The 1973 Act twisted the system of collective bargaining with the empowering of the Minister to vary collective bargaining agreements, thus reducing the freedom to bargain (Collective Bargaining Autonomy). Not so much change occurred post-independence as had been forecasted, but just the follow within the direction of the 1959 Industrial Conciliation Act.

Within the first five years of independence, wages continued to be determined through bargaining at an industrial level, albeit after the removal of racial overtones. This period marked the time to debate on whether to introduce workers committees and workers council in the new systems or instead to strengthen the machinery already present. To Trade Unions, this had obvious implications in terms of their strengths, at a time when they believed that the development of a Trade Union movement was more an important achievement of worker expectations than worker participation, while to business, it meant an alteration to the existing power structures and an opening of new forms of worker control. This witnessed the formation of enterprise councils and the strengthening of the one industry one union policy.

Collective bargaining became largely centralised at the industry level. The coming in of the 1985 Act witnessed the institutionalization of collective bargaining at industry level with the possibility of enterprise flexibility through flexibility Workers Committees. Concepts such as unfair labour practice were introduced, including good faith bargaining, bringing Employment Councils and Employment Boards (in their structures and forms) in the hierarchy to replace Industrial Councils and Boards that had been introduced in the 1959 Act as well as empowering of enterprise level bargaining through Works Council. This also saw the empowering of the state to promulgate regulations which would have overriding effects on bargaining agreements, state’s determination of maximum and minimum wages, severe curtailment of the right to strike and the intensive state regulation of Trade Union as well as the continuation of the one union one industry concept among other things. This resulted in collective bargaining playing a key and more secondary and subordinate role to state regulation.  The neo-liberal policies adopted in the 1990s witnessed, but a radical shift towards voluntarism and labour autonomy, when collective bargaining became a decisive platform for the determination of wages and dismissals.

The 2002 Amendment Act strengthened the facilitative role of the state, which expressly states in the purpose of the Act, the provision of a legal framework within which employers and employees can bargain collectively for the improvement of working conditions. The position has been maintained by the Labour Act. Some of the critical elements that lie at the core of collective bargaining in the Act include among other things, issues of scope of agreements, good faith negotiations and issues of agency representation as well as registration of agreements. Collective bargaining law in Zimbabwe has tremendously contributed to the whole industrial relations framework both economically and socially. The major economic benefit so derived by parties to the employment relationship has been the establishment of a framework upon which individuals and collective work place relations are managed and where industrial conflict is institutionalized for the pursuit of a harmonious employee relations climate.

Collective bargaining remains a significant factor that has been enjoyed by parties to employment relations. The legally binding nature of collective bargaining has been significant. It falls at the hub of such works like Otto Kahn Freund who argues that law comes as a force to regulate, support and restrains the powers of management and organized labour. In other words, there is a clear recognition of the power difference between individual employees against management or organized labour against management respectively. Furthermore, the law has improved on Trade Unions effectiveness as measured by the meeting of primary needs of workers such as better pay, conditions of work, and protection against arbitrary management action. The state has made it very difficult for labour to enjoy the freedom to bargain by instituting a well calculated and sophisticated bargaining framework involving a combination of bargaining centralization through Employment Councils as well as bargaining decentralization in the work place.

 Research has clearly proved that the essence of bargaining power lies in one’s ability to withhold something of value to another and that a strike action is an essential and integral part of collective bargaining. Without this, the power of management to shut down the plant will not be matched by a corresponding power on the side of labour. Apparently, such factors have tended to negatively affect Trade Unions in terms of their powers to negotiate effectively in collective bargaining. Most of the regulations were largely driven by political factors rather than economic ones thus resulting in a disintegrated, frustrated competing and conflicting labour movements hence diverting their attention from representing their constituencies to scampering for membership. Meanwhile, this has given more security to employers who already have so much power in employee relations.  A combination of two tier system of managing collective bargaining, one for the public sector and another for the private sector plus the administration of a combination of bargaining centralization (industry-wide) and decentralization (company-wide) simultaneously has also come with it some interesting results.  As a result there has not only bee a lack of collective voice on the part of employees in general, but the private sector has had a tendency to wait for the public sector to negotiate CBAs first and then use the results as a benchmark.

Types of collective bargaining

The two basic types of collective bargaining are traditional bargaining and partnership bargaining.

Traditional style

The traditional style of bargaining has been used since collective bargaining began between management and the early Labour Unions. It is an adversarial style of negotiating, putting one side against the other with little or no understanding of, or knowledge about the other on the part of either part. Each side places its demands and proposal on the table and the other side responds to them with counter proposals. The process is negative and involves a struggle of give and take on most issues.

The partnership style

The partnership style of bargaining is a more modern concept. It strives for mutual understanding and common education on the part of both labour and management, and it focuses on goals and concerns common to both parties. It emphasizes on each other side being aware of its issues concerning the other side. It is called interest based bargaining. In this process labour and management each list and explain their needs and ensuring discussion revolves around ways to meet those needs that will not only be acceptable but also beneficial to both parties. This style of bargaining is very positive and imports a much more congenial atmosphere to the negotiating process. Sometimes there is a blending of the traditional and partnership styles in labour and managerial negotiations.

Purpose of collective bargaining

Collective bargaining assumes willingness on each side not only to listen to the representation of the other but to abandon fixed positions where possible in order to find common ground. The following are the reasons for collective bargaining;

Establishing industrial justice

It allows workers to participate in decision that affects them.

Ensures that no arbitrary behaviour is imposed and no unrealistic demands are made on them.

Factors necessary for effective collective bargaining to take place

There is need to consider the following factors for effective collective bargaining to take place;

Recognition of divergent interests of employers and employees.

Recognition of the need for equilibrium of power between two parties.

Recognition of the philosophy of mutual survival.

Elimination of direct and indirect obstacles to effective collective bargaining.

Representation, democratic process whereby elected representatives negotiate on behalf of large groups.

Power which lies in the ability of parties to influence each other towards mutually acceptable agreements.

Common ground.

Key issues in collective bargaining


Issues discussed both substantive and procedural issues, including rates of remuneration, benefits, deductions from employee wages, methods of calculating or adjusting rate of pay, overtime, vacation leave, hours of work occupational safety, procedures to deal with disputes, and measure to combat work place violence.


Collective bargaining take place at the micro/enterprise level and the macro level which include the industry and national levels.


This include the specific groups/constituencies that are covered by collective agreements at various levels.

Tapiwa Mupandanyama is a Human Resources and Payroll Consultant at Assent Incorporated (Pvt) Ltd a Human Resources and Payroll consulting firm.