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The year that was: Zambian workers fight back – December 2009

By Meluse Kapatamoyo

As the year 2009 comes to a close, the country is hopefully saying goodbye to the worldwide financial earthquake which has had a devastating effect on most Zambian workers.

The year will be remembered as one that saw workers aggressively fight for better conditions of service. Unfortunately, as is the trend in Zambia, employees often had to strike in order to get the attention of their employers.

In the public sector, teachers and nurses downed tools to press for salary increments and better conditions of service. Despite government’s plea for workers to return to work after it failed to meet their demands, the strike continued, completely paralysing the health and education services in the country.

The work-stoppage by the two ministries, which lasted for an entire month, ended when civil society organisations got involved and urged the two parties to reach an agreement. This was especially aimed at health workers, after pictures of a woman in labour who had been turned away from a hospital were circulated.

Although government failed to meet their demands fully, agreeing to a 15 percent salary increment instead of the 35 percent they were demanding, workers returned to work hoping to continue with negotiations.

Meanwhile, in the private sector, union leaders were trying to find a solution to job cuts which had rocked the mines. Eventually, job losses in the mines came to a halt after workers succumbed to suggestions from investors to either forgo their annual salary increments or risk further loss of jobs.

The precedence set by employees in the public sector encouraged other workers to take a stand and fight for better working conditions. There were countrywide work-stoppages at two of South Africa’s biggest supermarkets based in Zambia, Spar and Shoprite. Strikes were also recorded by small retail shops.

For the first time Shoprite workers were allowed to form a union and all the employees that were on contracts were employed on an official basis. Their demand, to be registered with the National Pensions Scheme Authority (NAPSA), was granted.

The year ended with workers rioting at the country’s biggest mine, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). They were demanding an upward salary adjustment.


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