February 19, 2004

Massive strike against austerity plan

Organisers of a massive strike and demonstration against tax increases and wage freezes proclaimed victory this week in an action being seen as a first bite-back against International Monetary Fund economic conditionalities. Zambia Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Sylvester Tembo said 90 percent of workers in the public sector heeded the strike call.

About 500,000 Zambian workers marched to parliament to lobby MPs to reject the 2004 budget in which new taxes were introduced. The government wants to hike income taxes to up to 40 per cent for the highest paid workers in Zambia. Opposition members of parliament tabled a motion on Wednesday to introduce a defined poverty line and a minimum wage for workers in Zambia, where three-quarters of the 11 million population live below the World Bank poverty line of one dollar a day.

Talks between workers and government on the measures have been dragging on for five months after the government agreed with the IMF to cut back sharply on public spending. The government increased personal income tax from 30-40% in this year's budget and imposed a wage freeze on civil servants.

President Levy Mwanawasa has meanwhile sent ministers to the provinces to explain the tax increases and frozen wages though he has himself earlier publicly disagreed with IMF conditionalities. (The Times of Ndola / SouthScan)

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