Labour Minister Fackson Shamenda has declared the labour movement in Zambia dead and has warned that the public service wage freeze can go on until 2017.
Mr Shamenda said there was no justification for the high levels of exploitation of workers in various sectors when there existed labour movements with the obligation of taking care of the employees’ welfare.
He was speaking during the official opening of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) 2015 national Budget workshop held in Lusaka yesterday.
“There is no one, not even in a home set up, who rescinds a decision when challenged in public. Before you even exhaust the available channels for dialogue as a union, you have already declared a dispute.
“Threats will not help us, let us not jump too early because there will be serious problems, and if you are shouting headlines in newspapers, the wage freeze will continue up to 2017,” Mr Shamenda warned.
He accused union leaders of lacking negotiation skills to enable them convince employers on labour issues, and wondered how such leaders would manage to persuade government, as an employer, on the status of the wage freeze and recruitment freeze.
Mr Shamenda said the union should have engaged government over the wage freeze instead of taking a confrontational approach through the newspapers and other media.
The Minister said as a labour movement, they should be knowledgeable of engagement strategies with various employers especially the government who were the biggest employer in the country.
“Do not think you have been neglected by anyone, no government would want to deliberately ignore the Union so that we create a standoff. What the employees want is results not what you think about (Mr) Shamenda, but instead try to get something for them.
“Be bold enough and challenge the authorities, when you have issues bring us together, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Labour and other relevant parties, even if we do not agree, we would have discussed,” he charged.
Mr Shamenda challenged the unions to encourage dialogue in their methods of engagement as it was the most effective way of protecting the interests of the people.
He said currently the media had become better advocates for the workers compared to the labour movements in the country.
“ZNBC and Muvi have become better trade unions than you (ZCTU), there is so much exploitation of factory workers because unions are dead.
“Wake up and your members will be protected. If you take a confrontational approach, your issues will not be considered in the 2015 Budget,” he said.
And Mr Shamenda has bemoaned the position taken by the labour movement of lamenting the plight of factory workers when they should be fighting for their conditions of service, saying “it is unfortunate to hear unions lament over workers’ poor conditions of service, when they should be working towards protecting the workers”.
And ZCTU president Leonard Hikaumba said the meeting was meant to give government an insight of what was on the ground with the workers.
He said it was up to government to take into consideration Labour challenges raised and the perception of workers on the wage and recruitment freeze.
Mr Hikaumba said the pre-budget meeting was expected to challenge government to improve funding for skills training colleges to avoid shortage of skilled workforce in the industry.
He said most public institutions of learning had outdated equipment used as training material for the students.
“There is need for adequate funding to enable students acquire relevant skills with up-to-date equipment in line with technology, instead of the current old model of car engines and other outdated equipment in use,” Mr Hikaumba said.