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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zambia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zambia, 9 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c4fec4d2e.html [accessed 1 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 12,900,000
Capital: Lusaka
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The right to strike was again undermined as striking nurses faced police intimidation and the threat of dismissal. On several occasions workers took strike action because of their frustration at the way employers, including the government, ignored or delayed collective bargaining. The right to strike is severely limited in law.

Trade union rights in law

A number of limitations on trade union rights apply despite initial guarantees. While the Constitution provides for freedom of association, there can only be one union per industry. Furthermore, workers in the prison service, judges, court registrars and magistrates are excluded from the Industrial and Labour Relations Act, and the Minister also has discretionary powers to exclude certain categories of workers from the scope of the Act.

While the right to collective bargaining is secured, it is almost impossible to call a lawful strike, as all strikes are subject to a long series of procedural requirements. Strikes can also be discontinued if found by the court not to be "in the public interest". Police officers can arrest workers without needing a warrant if they are believed to be on strike in an essential service, the list of which exceeds the ILO definition.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Zambia was hit hard by the global economic downturn as the price of copper slumped and thousands of jobs were lost in the mining industry. Zambia remains one of the world's poorest countries, with 60% of the population living below the poverty line. In August Frederick Chiluba, who was President of Zambia from 1991 to 2002 and a former General Secretary of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, was cleared of corruption charges after a six year trial.

Trade union rights flouted: Trade union rights are widely flouted particularly in the mining sector, which is dominated by foreign owners, notably Chinese investors who are often accused of intimidating behaviour. The Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has expressed concern at the government's failure to apply labour legislation, particularly when it comes to Chinese investors. The increasing number of sub-contractors in the mining industry makes it harder to organise the workers, and when trade unions do succeed they are often faced with employers who try to avoid social dialogue.

Because the right to strike is subject to a long series of procedural requirements, in practice it is almost impossible for workers to hold a legal strike. Employers take advantage of this to declare strikes illegal and dismiss labour activists.

Legal strikes futile: As a result of lengthy procedural requirements making it almost impossible for workers to hold a lawful strike, no legal strike has been held in Zambia since 1994.

Intimidation of striking nurses: On 18 June, during a month long health workers' strike, armed police were sent to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka, Zambia's largest hospital, to stop the nurses from carrying out their strike within the hospital premises. They had gone on strike to press for improved conditions of service. Nurses were then given an ultimatum on 25 June to return to work by 29 June or be sacked.

On 28 June, police officers disrupted a meeting organised in the hospital by striking nurses at the UTH, ordering them to abandon the meeting. The following day police in Ndola, wearing riot gear, broke up a gathering by striking nurses from the Ndola hospital at the Kansenshi cemetery.

The police arrested five of the nurses (Anna Mulio, Nancy Mwila, Matilda Mukobe, Ireen Kunda, of the Ndola Central Hospital (NCH) and Susan Nampemba, of the District Health Management Team (DHMT0) and charged them with illegal assembly. The nurses had chosen to gather at the cemetery after being instructed not to hold meetings in government hospitals. The acting Police Chief for the Copperbelt region told the media that police officers had been deployed in all hospitals and clinics to stop the so-called "illegal" gatherings.

The health workers' strike was called off further to a meeting between the Health Minister, the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the Zambia Nurses Union Organisation (ZUNO) and members of the clergy. As a result of that meeting, the government agreed that nurses' allowances were too small and promised to set up a technical committee to look at how to meet the nurses' demands.

Striking miners dismissed: On 13 November, police officers were sent to disperse hundreds of mine workers at the Konkola Copper Mine, on the fourth day of their strike. There had previously been some violent incidents, although the union pointed out that is was largely due to the massive frustration felt by the miners at the failure to address their demands. The National Union of Miners and Allied Workers (NUMAW) said that the company had given the workers an ultimatum to return to work or lose their jobs, declaring the strike illegal. It refused to resume talks until the miners returned to work. The strike was called off and talks on demands for better working conditions and pay resumed. In early December however, Konkola Copper Mines dismissed at least 40 employees for their role in the strike.

University frustrates collective bargaining: At the end of December the University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers' Union (UNZALARU), the University of Zambia and Allied Workers Union (UNZAAWU) and the University of Zambia Professional and Senior Staff Association (UNZAPROSSA) warned that the current situation at the institution was potentially explosive . In June, all members of staff at the university had gone on strike after the university management failed to meet outstanding contractual obligations and facilitate meaningful collective bargaining. The strike was called off after assurances that a solution to the unions' concerns was being sought. By December however nothing had changed. Furthermore the Minister of Education had ignored numerous requests by the unions for a meeting with her. At the end of the year two of the organisations at the university were still negotiating for improved conditions of service for 2009. The unions stated that the management with the full backing of the university council had done everything possible to delay and frustrate the collective bargaining process.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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