April 4, 2003

Workers on strike

Protest over standards of living in Zambia are increasingly being expressed through industrial action. Some Zambian public workers are on strike and accuse their trade union leaders of betraying them in wage negotiations with the government. The umbrella Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) last month threatened a nationwide strike if the government did not meet its demand for a 1.5 million kwacha (about US $300) across the board raise for public workers. But after talks with the government last week, labour leaders settled for a far smaller hike.

"The government has agreed to do two things - pay 615,000 kwacha [$123] for the lowest paid public worker and 1.1 million [$220] to the highest paid worker. I must stress that this is a start and it was the best we could do at this stage ... next year, we will get better I think," ZCTU president Leonard Hikaumba told IRIN.

The basic take home salary of Zambia's teachers, nurses and policemen is around 300,000 kwacha (US $60). According to the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflections, which carries out monthly cost of living surveys, in January an average family of six needed more than 1 million kwacha (US $208) for "basic needs".

Some Zambian teachers, who are on strike, have said they would not accept the government's offer and would move for a vote of no confidence in the ZCTU leaders. "We are collecting a number of signatures from the members so that the vote of no confidence for the union leaders can be official," Eric Mwale, a teachers' representative, told journalists. "We are not satisfied with the agreement the union leaders have come up with and therefore we refuse to go back to work until our demands are met."

The Zambia National Union of Teachers (ZNUT) has appealed to the teachers who have continued with the strike to resume work immediately . The union was, however, pleased that most schools countrywide had resumed normal operations. Speaking in an interview yesterday, ZNUT deputy general secretary Roy Mwaba said all teachers should resume work because the negotiations with Government had already been concluded. Mr Mwaba urged the teachers to respect the outcome of the negotiations. He said the union leaders were satisfied that what was bargained for was in the best interest of everyone. After striking the deal, Government asked the union leaders to go round the country and convince all their members to call off the strike.

On Monday, March 31, Zambian magistrates and local court justices went on strike, crippling judicial proceedings at the surbodinate courts in Lusaka and Ndola. Suspects who were supposed to appear in court remained in remand prison while those on police bond and bail were given future dates on which to appear by court assistants and prosecutors. The magistrates' strike started immediately after State advocates who had gone on go-slow resumed duties following Government's increase of their salaries and those of other civil servants.

Meanwhile, Unionised Zambia Telecommunications Company (Zamtel) workers who are demanding a K1 million pay rise across the board yesterday briefly staged a sit-in protest in Lusaka, Ndola and Kitwe. The workers downed tools to show solidarity with their union's negotiation team after word went round that management had not only rejected their K1 million demand but was not offering anything, insisting instead on a wage freeze this year. 'The negotiations are currently going on between management and the union, but management is offering a zero increase,' a union official said. The official said the workers were not on strike but had merely staged the sit-in to show solidarity with their national leaders who were negotiating with management.

Zamtel regional director Sandie Kandolo in an interview confirmed the work stoppage by the employees, but described it as illegal. Mr Kandolo said management had been taken unawares by the workers actions because negotiations were going on smoothly. 'We have talked to them and told them to go back to work because we are still negotiating. We had a meeting yesterday (Tuesday) and we'll be meeting the union again on Friday,' Mr Kondolo said.

By Press time, the workers in both Lusaka and Ndola had already called off their protest and had gone back to their respective operational locations. (Zambian newspapers; IRIN)

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