The Zambian government did not follow the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s prescribed channel of communication when it imposed the wage and recruitment freeze for public service workers.
ILO Africa Regional Director Aeneas Chuma explained that the decision by the Zambian government to freeze wages and recruitment of staff in the public service should have been agreed upon by various stakeholders through substantial dialogue.
Mr Chuma said although the matter was between government and its stakeholders, ILO dictated prior dialogue and agreements depending on the circumstances for the proposed course of action.
“I cannot comment on that because it is a matter for the government and its stakeholders, the labour movements, but as ILO, we call for extensive dialogue between the parties involved for the wage freeze to be implemented,” Mr Chuma said.
And Labour Minister Fackson Shamenda said the decision to freeze wages in the public service was not cast in stone.
He said government was already holding discussions with the labour movement over the wage freeze.
Mr Shamenda said trade unions had begun organizing themselves to address the issue of the wage freeze with government.
Last year during the National Budget presentation in Parliament by Minister of Finance, Alexander Chikwanda, Government imposed a wage freeze and employment moratorium for two years.
The Government’s decision has however upset labour union who have cried foul over the imposition.
Zambia Congress of Trade Union president Leonard Hikaumba is on record stating that the wage freeze was illegal as there were no prior consultation between the unions and the employer.
On his part, Mr Shamenda had dared the unions to take the matter to court if the wage freeze was illegal. Zambia is a member of the ILO and implements labour guidelines that she has ratified or domesticated. And Mr Shamenda said government was working at reforming labour laws to improve work contracts that discouraged casualization at workplaces.
He said other issues of contention in the current labour laws included the high unemployment levels especially among the young people.
“You cannot talk about poverty eradication with high unemployment levels, particularly youth unemployment which is becoming a global problem. Another issue is the decent work agenda which is not being implemented,” he said.
He said the Technical Committee would be put in place soon and was hopeful the new reforms would be in place before the end of the year.
Mr Shamenda called on ILO to use Zambia as a model country in its endeavors of implementing internationally recognized laws, and especially with reference to the current restructuring of the labour laws to customize them to five crosscutting laws.
And Mr Chuma commended Mr Shamenda on his wide experience as a labour activist and now working in government to implement the various challenges on the welfare of the workers.
Mr Chuma is in Zambia for the National Women’s Empowerment Jubilee Expo being held at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka.
His visit also coincided with the Third African Women’s Economic Summit to be hosted by Zambia from July 24- 26 under the theme: “African Women Realising Africa’s Economic Potential” organised by New Faces New Voices of East Africa.