Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2018, 16:20 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Zambia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Zambia, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 21 February 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: 13,050,000
Capital: Lusaka

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Arrests: 12
Dismissals: 2,300

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


A Human Rights Watch report revealed a culture of anti-trade union practice at Chinese run mines. Over 2,000 striking miners were sacked in October although the government quickly stepped in to order their reinstatement. Twelve protesting miners were arrested in October, while the retail chain Shoprite sacked all its unionised staff countrywide in March following a strike.


Michael Sata, of the Patriotic Front, won the presidential in elections in September 2011. He appointed former Zambia Congress of Trade Union's (ZCTU) leader Fackson Shamenda as Labour Minister and Rayford Mbulu, former president of the Mine Workers' Union of Zambia (MUZ) as deputy minister. Former President Chiluba, who had also been leader of the ZCTU, died in June. Poverty is still widespread. Life expectancy is among the lowest in the world and the death rate is one of the highest – largely due to the prevalence of HIV/Aids.

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.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Charges dropped against Chinese supervisors charged in mine shooting:

The prosecutors in charge of the case against two Chinese supervisors who shot at miners in October 2010 decided at the beginning of April to drop the charges against them after the company agreed to pay compensation. The two were facing 13 counts of attempted murder after they fired live ammunition into a crowd of miners on 15 October 2010 during a protest over a wage dispute at the Chinese-owned Collum coal mine, a major supplier of coal to Zambia's copper and cobalt sector. The incident provoked outrage among many Zambians, whose opposition is growing to China's huge economic influence over their country.

Working conditions at the mine are extremely harsh and wages are often no more than four dollars a day. The Chinese supervisors speak very little English and nothing of the local languages. They are therefore unable to communicate properly with their workers.

At the time of the incident the Zambian government had promised that the shootings would be thoroughly investigated and that a full and fair trial would be held. The prosecutors did not give a reason for dropping the charges.

Labour rights abuses at Chinese run mines:

A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) released at the end of October revealed a string of workers' rights abuses at Chinese mining companies in Zambia. The report, "'You'll Be Fired If You Refuse': Labor Abuses in Zambia's Chinese State-owned Copper Mines," based on interviews with miners between November 2010 and July 2011 reveals long working hours and appalling health and safety standards. Miners are expected to work 12 or even 18 hour shifts in poor ventilation, which can cause lung disease, and lacking vital safety equipment. Protests are not tolerated. Outspoken union representatives faced retaliation, and the workers' rights to join a union were violated by Chinese managers, HRW researchers found. (see Violations).

Complaints about Chinese business practices in Zambia stretch back years and often are pointed to as examples of problems with Chinese investors across Africa. In 2005, an explosion at a Chinese-owned factory in northern Zambia killed 51 Zambian workers. In 2010 two Chinese managers were accused of shooting coal miners during a labor dispute (see 2010 Survey and Violations below).

Another practice undermining attempts by workers to improve their lot is casualisation. Speaking in May 2011, Mundia Sikufele president of National Union of Miners and Allied Workers warned that most foreign investors were circumventing labour laws by employing workers as casuals. Mr Sikufele called on the government to stiffen regulations and intensify labour inspection.

President Michael Sata came to power in September vowing to clean up the mining industry.


12 protesting miners arrested: Twelve miners were arrested on the night of 10 January for blocking a road during a protest outside the premises of Non-Ferrous Corporation Africa Mining (NFCA). The miners had organised the peaceful demonstration because NFCA management had not informed them, or their union, that the company they were working for, NFC mining department, a subsidiary of the NFCA, had transferred ownership to a company called JCHX, which was operating within the same premises. The miners claimed that management had breached the contract signed with NFCA by not informing and not paying them terminal benefits.

The workers who went to join the protest at the entrance of NFCA found themselves faced with State police in full riot gear. The 12 miners were charged with obstruction for inconveniencing people that were using the road.

Shoprite sacks unionised workers following strike: Shoprite management sacked all unionised workers countrywide on 31 March following a four-day strike that paralysed operations.

Shoprite deputy general manager Charles Bota said that all the unionised workers had been dismissed for non-compliance to company regulations. Workers started the strike on March 28 to demand an increase in the minimum monthly wage, a better pension and for workers to be given permanent jobs.

The following day the, National Union of Commercial and Industrial Workers (NUCIW) reached an agreement with management at a meeting chaired by the ministry of labor and social security. At the time Shoprite said it was reversing its decision to sack all unionised workers. However it then issued letters of suspension and gross misconduct to some union officials and workers who participated in the recent countrywide strike. The Labour Ministry again intervened to resolve the matter.

2,000 striking mine workers fired: At least 2,000 striking workers at Non-Ferrous Corporation Africa Mining (NFCA) and JCHX Mine Construction Zambia Limited were summarily dismissed on 19 October for going on strike and refusing to resume work.

Workers at NFCA and JCHX Construction Zambia Limited, a constructing company for NFCA, have been protesting for two weeks asking for an across the board pay rise and improvements in their conditions of service.

The dismissal notices gave the workers the right to appeal within 48 hours. The government stepped in the following day however and ordered the company to immediately reinstate them. Mines minister Wylbur Simuusa arranged to meet Non-Ferrous China Africa (NFCA) management and employees to iron out the differences.

After the incident, the unrepentant NFCA chief executive officer reportedly said that the reinstated workers would be screened and the "troublemakers" disciplined.

A culture of anti-union intimidation at Chinese run mines: Several Chinese-run operations have prevented workers from exercising their right to join the labor union of their choice through threats and intimidation says the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report "'You'll Be Fired If You Refuse': Labor Abuses in Zambia's Chinese State-owned Copper Mines" based on interviews during the year . A union representative at Sino Metals told HRW that Chinese managers intimidate union members and try to harass union representatives into leaving their job. Another union representative at Non-Ferrous Mining Company Africa (NFCA) reported that he had been harassed several times, including being forcibly transferred to distance him from where union meetings are held and faced disciplinary action, with the threat of dismissal, for attending a union meeting. Miners in other companies run by the Chinese or other multinationals also described retaliation against outspoken union representatives, including docked pay or refusal to renew their contracts.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld