Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zambia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zambia, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
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: 11,000,000
Capital: Lusaka
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Trade union rights are widely flouted in the mining sector, which is dominated by Chinese owners.

Trade union rights in law

Restrictions on freedom of association: Workers, apart from police officers, have the right to form and join trade unions. All unions must be registered, but must have at least 25 members in order to do so, and there can, in principle, only be one union per industry.

Anti-union discrimination is prohibited by law, which provides for redress, including reinstatement for workers fired as a result of union activities.

Collective bargaining: Collective bargaining is recognised and in the private sector is carried out through joint councils. Civil servants negotiate directly with the government.

Restrictions on the right to strike: Workers have the right to strike, except those engaged in essential services, which exceeds the ILO definition by including fire fighting, sewerage, and certain mining operations.

Workers enjoy certain legal protections against an employer's retribution for strike activities. However, the right to strike is subject to a long series of procedural requirements, so it is almost impossible for workers to hold a legal strike. As a result, no legal strikes have been held in Zambia since 1994.

The Industrial and Labour Relations Act empowers a police officer to arrest someone without needing a warrant, if they are believed to be on strike in an essential service or are likely to damage property. Police can impose a fine and up to six months' imprisonment. The ILO has said that this punishment is disproportionate and has asked the government to amend it.

Revisions of labour laws: The government has been requested by the ILO for many years to amend the law to remove the above-mentioned restrictions and bring it into line with the principles of freedom of association.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: In November, the acting Vice-President, Rupiah Banda, won the presidential elections following the death of Levy Mwanawasa. The opposition, which was defeated by a small margin, said the vote had been rigged. In recent years the unions have continuously complained about the worsening social climate in the mining industry, which is mainly owned by Chinese investors who are often accused of intimidating and brutal attitudes. Several projects for setting up export processing zones (EPZs) are planned or being developed. The project that has progressed furthest is in Chambishi, where China has said it will shortly be setting up 150 companies.

Mass dismissal of strikers and arrest of seven trade unionists: On 5 March, 500 striking workers at the Chambishi Copper Smelter (CCS) were sacked by their employer. The day before, seven branch officials of the National Union of Miners and Allied Workers (NUMAW) had been arrested by the police after a battle had broken out between 500 workers and 200 Chinese foremen, resulting in at least three people being injured. The workers, employed to build a foundry, had gone on strike on 3 March to demand pay increases and better safety conditions. The union officials were released, and the workers were reinstated after some intensive negotiations.

Trade unionist is beaten and dismissed: In early June, again in Chambishi, Richard Sinkala, a union member working for another Chinese company, NFC (China Non-Ferrous Metal Industry's Foreign Engineering & Construction Company), filed a complaint that he had been assaulted by Ma Jong, a Chinese engineer. Richard Sinkala had repeatedly complained about the inadequate financial compensation paid to the family of a worker who had died from an occupational accident. After spending a few nights in prison, the engineer was released for lack of evidence. The trade unionist was sacked.

Violations of union rights in the mining industry: The fundamental rights of workers and their representatives are being increasingly flouted in the mining industry. There are more and more sub-contractors, and those trade union delegations that do manage to set up are faced with employers trying to avoid any social dialogue. One specific result of this trend is that occupational accidents, which are often fatal, are constantly rising.

Expulsion of 24 Indian strikers: The situation faced by foreign workers recruited by these foreign investors is not always any better. In May, 24 Indians were summarily repatriated to Bombay after being identified as the ringleaders of a strike involving over 300 of their compatriots employed by Onshore Construction Company, an Indian sub-contractor hired to build a copper foundry in Chingola. The workers were complaining about their pay and working conditions.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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