Africa, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Labour

LABOUR-ZAMBIA: Workers Threaten Industrial Action

Lewis Mwanangombe

LUSAKA, Jan 15 1998 (IPS) - The Zambian government is bracing itself for a wave of industrial unrest as wildcat strikes break out on the copper and cobalt mines, and workers in the public sector threaten labour action over a new wage-freeze policy.

Workers in this Southern African nation are dismayed by their stagnant wages as the cost of living continues to rise, and officials within the country’s labour union movement are rallying workers to take action.

On the mines, the contentious issue of bonuses has triggered wildcat strikes at three mines in the mineral-rich Copperbelt Province.

Paul Kafumbe, President of the Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ), said that widespread industrial unrest is still expected at mines owned by the state enterprise, Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM), because the mine bosses have failed to listen to the workers’ representatives.

The miners are angry over management’s failure to pay a production bonus which was introduced by ZCCM in 1997. The union says that the bonus was introduced in a “haphazard” fashion, leading to the current problems.

“From the beginning, the union was reluctant to get involved in this scheme, because it could get no agreement on the manner in which bonuses were to be handled,” Kafumbe said.

ZCCM wanted the scheme to cover only workers directly involved in production at underground and open pit workings, while the union wanted it spread to all workers, because “…mining is team work”, Kafumbe said. “Without the sweepers and engineers who repair equipment, there can be no production to talk about,” the union leader added.

Last November, miners in production met their targets, but the ZCCM suddenly got cold feet and began to look for excuses to not pay the bonuses.

Sam Equamo, ZCCM Manager Corporate Affairs, admits that the miners met their production targets, but is quick to point out that for the bonus to be paid out, production costs must be kept low.

“In order to earn a production bonus, the requirement is that production must be above target, while the unit cost must be on or below target. This requirement applies to all ZCCM’s operating units,” Equamo said.

Irate miners at two mines downed their tools last week, and day shift miners at ZCCM’s Nkana Mine stopped work this week, but returned to their stations after being addressed by union leaders and mine managers.

“They (management) are getting caught by the system which they created and which was discriminatory,” Kafumbe said, adding that the union supported a bonus which would be for every worker so long as targets were met and costs kept down.

MUZ will enter into negotiations with private owners of copper and cobalt mines in the Copperbelt for the bonus system to take effect in 1998 for workers at these mines.

It also plans to review the renumeration system for all workers on the mines. While the union supports bonuses for all workers, it believes the regular pay package should be based on the workers’ direct contribution to production.

“We want to review the remuneration package so that the standardised method of pay can be phased out and each employee can be paid according to his share in the production effort,” Kafumbe said.

The union’s executive believes that those working underground should be paid more than secretaries and personnel managers who work in offices.

Meanwhile, besides the miners, public workers too have threatened to stop work to protest against a two-year wage freeze imposed by the Zambian government in early January.

Twenty-two affiliates of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) met recently on the Copperbelt and have threatened a major industrial action if the wage freeze is not withdrawn immediately.

Alec Chirwa, a former civil servant who is now the ZCTU secretary-general, said that the union will stand firm on this issue, since the government did not discuss the freeze with the union first.

“The ZCTU is aware that Zambia, as a member of the International Labour Organisation, has ratified conventions number 98 on collective bargaining, 151 on labour relations and 154 on public service bargaining.

“In this vain, government is contradicting the conventions, because there was no consultation and concensus on the imposition of the wage freeze policy,” Chirwa argued.

The controversial policy is among measures being taken by the Zambian government to downsize the public sector as part of economic reforms. So far, the government has targetted 8000 ‘Classifed Daily-paid Employees’, among whom are a large number of ‘ghost workers’.

Some 50,000 civil servants in the areas of journalism, agriculture, teaching, social welfare and mainstream administration will be next in line for retrenchment.

According to the Finance Minister Ronald Penza, after these workers are retrenched, the government will be able to pay salaries in excess of the current earnings of 150,000 Kwachas (100 U.S. Dollars) or less monthly, to the remaining civil servants.

Chirwa said that the public service unions are willing to promote dialogue on all matters related to the public service reforms, but he added that this should not encourage government to ignore established procedures.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags