Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zambia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Zambia, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
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

While the Zambian government courts the Chinese and welcomes their heavy investment in the country, there is growing concern over Chinese employers' attitudes to their workers and harsh response to organised protest. In one incident 11 miners were shot and two seriously injured. The Revenue Authority continued to delay and effectively deny recognition of an independent workers' union. The right to strike is severely limited 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.


Background: China's involvement in Zambia deepened in February when the two countries signed a mining cooperation agreement and a deal to set up a joint economic zone. This was followed in August by an agreement with China to build a second hydro-electric power plant on the Kafue River. Zambia is now worse off than in 1970, partly due to HIV/AIDS, according to the UN's Human Development Index. The disease has decimated Zambia's professionals, including engineers and politicians, and malaria remains a major problem. Millions of Zambians live below the World Bank poverty threshold of USD 1 a day.

Unions facing difficult conditions and growing casualisation: Former Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) President, Fackson Shamenda, observed that trade unions in the country were operating under difficult conditions, given the political climate, the economic situation and consequent job losses. Meanwhile the Labour and Social Security Minister, Austin Liato, publically criticised some employers for using temporary workers to fill traditionally permanent positions simply to avoid paying statutory employment benefits to workers, leading to growing casualisation and making union organising all the more difficult.

Government intimidation: In September, the General Secretary of the Mineworkers' Union of Zambia (MUZ), Oswell Munyenyembe, protested that the government intimidated the union whenever it spoke out on issues affecting miners. Matters came to a head after the MUZ repeatedly voiced concerns about the government's decision to allow Vale, a Brazilian mining giant, to start operating in Zambia. The government disregarded the union's concerns and instead accused it of being used by the opposition. The MUZ pointed out it did not need the opposition to tell it to defend miners' interests. The MUZ's views and concerns about Vale were based on the company's record of mistreating workers at mines it operated in other countries.

Protesting mineworkers shot: Eleven miners at the Chineseowned Collum coal mine in Zambia's Sinazongwe district were shot and injured on 15 October by Chinese managers. Two miners were in a critical condition after they were shot in the chest and head, requiring surgery in Lusaka. The others were treated at the local hospital before being sent home.

The shootings happened after the miners raised concerns over safety and low pay at the mine with their managers. The miners were awaiting an address from Mr Sifuniso Nyumbu, President of the Gemstones and Allied Workers Union of Zambia (GAWUZ). The protest was also supported by the Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ). Miners' interviewed said they lacked face masks and safety shoes and in many instances had to wear their own clothes on duty. They were being paid ZMK 500,000 (USD 100) a month and paying about ZMK 100,000 (USD 20) to rent mud-walled huts lacking basic facilities. The MUZ had warned about the dangerous operating conditions and lack of proper clothing for its workers and criticised the "slave wages" paid to locals.

Two supervisors at the Collum coal mine, Xiao Li Shan and Wu Jiu Hua, were charged with attempted murder and remanded in custody. The government brokered a temporary deal providing a better basic wage plus housing and transport allowances, pending a negotiated agreement between the union and the mine. Mine managers had already showed a poor reputation for respecting workers' rights. In July, two miners at the site were beaten and one of them hospitalised after four Chinese supervisors attacked them for allegedly failing to meet production targets.

Union denied recognition: The Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) has consistently used delaying tactics to effectively deny recognition of an independent workers' union. The Zambia Union of Financial Institutions and Allied Workers (ZUFIAW) has been fighting for recognition by the ZRA for over ten years. Workers complied with a mediation ruling in March 2009 whereby those who wished to resign from the employer's in-house union, the Zambia Revenue Authority Workers' Union (ZRAWU), had to write a formal letter to the general secretary. In November 2009, the ZUFIAW submitted a recognition agreement. In January 2010, ZRA responded by demanding that employees who had joined ZUFIAW also write personal letters to management, which they duly did. The ZRA dragged its feet for months eventually informing ZUFIAW that recognition would have to wait until they had consulted with other stakeholders due to the sensitive nature of the ZRA. The ZUFIAW pointed out that it already represented workers in other "sensitive" institutions such as banks and questioned the need to consult stakeholders, seeing this move by management as yet another means to stall recognition.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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