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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zambia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zambia, 20 November 2008, available at: [accessed 20 November 2017]
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: 11,900,000
Capital: Lusaka
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Numerous legal restrictions prevent the full exercise of trade union rights. In addition the authorities have repeatedly displayed blatant anti-union attitudes by refusing to hold a dialogue with strikers, blocking access to the country to Zimbabwean activists and contesting the election of a women union leader.

Trade union rights in law

Restrictions on the right to join and form unions: Workers have the right to join and form trade unions. In 2005 the Home Affairs Minister announced that police officers would no longer be allowed to join a trade union.

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 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 so many procedural requirements that it is near to 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 2007

Background: The increasing Chinese investment has been accompanied by increasing resentment from the people, who are scared that China is trying to despoil the country's raw materials and to exploit local workers by paying them badly and ignoring safety issues. In December a national conference was established, which was supposed to meet until the end of 2008 and lead to a reform of the Constitution.

Anti-union discrimination prevails: Anti-union discrimination continues to exist, against public and private sector workers, and the procedures for legal redress are often not effective due to a lack of resources. Many officials of municipal workers' trade unions have been dismissed for union activities and the government continues to deem strikes by workers in local government to be against the public interest.

Private sector employers artificially divide workplaces in order to keep the number of workers below the minimum threshold of 25 workers, so they will not be compelled to recognise a union. There were reportedly plans to lower the threshold to 15.

The Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has reported a steadily deteriorating situation for basic workers' rights in the private sector, including in multinationals present in the country. New workers in some private sector companies, particularly multinationals, are asked to sign a statement choosing a job over a union. Those who are not prepared to give up their right to unionise are not hired. There is particular concern about the behaviour of Chinese multinationals in the country and their failure to respect the rights of Zambian workers.

More strikes in the public services owing to the authorities' authoritarian attitudes: National and municipal authorities have been increasingly reluctant to bargain with their employees or their union. In recent years, several major disputes have dragged on for many months, with consistent allegations of bad-faith bargaining being levelled against the authorities. For example, on 18 June, the police in Ndola used tear gas to disperse several hundred municipal workers who had been on strike for several weeks, mainly to demand better working conditions and five months' back pay. A few days later, the local authorities sacked 72 of the strikers. At the end of the year, despite the intervention of the ZCTU, the sacked workers had still not been reinstated. Also, throughout the year, teachers on strike in protest at the failure to pay their travel allowances were punished by a 50% cut in their wages.

Casualisation of labour makes organising difficult: In recent years, there have been reports of companies increasingly employing casual labour, paying workers at probationary rates despite their having been working for a number of years. The Shoprite chain of shops has been one of the worst culprits. Based on the law, a worker automatically becomes permanent after six months, however employers often fire workers before the six months have been completed. Contracted workers are not entitled to any benefits. The authorities say they are revising labour laws to curb casualisation (short-term contract work).

Government harassment of a woman union leader and interference in trade union affairs: The harassment by a government official of Joyce Nonde, General Secretary of the Zambia Union of Financial Institutions and Allied Workers (ZUFIAW), continued in 2007. At the ZUFIAW Congress in December 2006, the Labour Commissioner, Mr. Noah Siasimuna, had refused to endorse the re-election of Ms Nonde under false pretexts. In March 2007, the government representative ordered the dissolution of the ZUFIAW Executive Bureau, an arbitrary decision that prevented the union from conducting negotiations with the employers. The ZUFIAW then filed legal proceedings and, on 10 August, the judges ruled in the union's favour. In a protest letter sent to the President of Zambia a few days earlier, Union Network International (UNI), of which ZUFIAW is an affiliate, denounced the government's manoeuvres for getting rid of Joyce Nonde.

Group of trade unionists, opposition members and human rights activists from Zimbabwe sent back there: On the evening of 14 August, at the Chirundu border post, immigration officials refused entry to the country to a group of 40 human rights activists and trade unionists from Zimbabwe. They had been hoping to speak at a two-day summit in Lusaka for leaders of the 14 countries of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). After completing the usual formalities and obtaining their visas, the activists had gone back to their bus and were on their way to Lusaka. But when the immigration officials entered the vehicle and saw a pile of tee-shirts bearing the slogan "SADC people's summit, let the people speak" they decided to send them back to Zimbabwe. 20 of the activists managed to escape in the dark, however.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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