Zambia unions demand wage increase, threaten strike

By Francis Maingaila, Wednesday, May 21, 2014

LUSAKA – Zambia's Public Service Unions have asked the government to honor a 2013 agreement by which all public service workers were to be given a wage raise last October, while a wage freeze, currently in force, was to be suspended, threatening to call an indefinite strike by October 2014 if their demands aren't met.

"The Public Service Unions have not only set an ultimatum but also declared a dispute with the government over the imposition of the wage freeze and its failure to honor the 2013 collective agreement," Zambia Congress for Trade Union Secretary-General Roy Mwaba told Anadolu Agency on Monday.

"This is the first time in the history of this country when all public service unions have taken such a confrontational stance against government," he said.

Mwaba said unions were dissatisfied with a government decision to impose a wage freeze in a country with a free market and where nearly 60 percent of employees work for the government.

"You don't declare a wage freeze in a free economy, where the government has no control over prices," he fumed.

"Just recently, fuel prices were raised. This means the cost of everything will go up and we have this wage freeze, which, according to the government, will last for two years," Mwaba added. "How will our members survive?"

The leading unionist urged the government to allocate funds to pay public service workers their outstanding wages.

"Government should also ensure that the wage freeze is lifted to avert the pending trouble the country is likely to face should the status quo remain unchanged," he warned.

Mwaba said that the unions were aware of government plans to pay 160 lawmakers a midterm gratuity of some 500,000 Zambian kwacha (nearly $77,000) each by September 2014.

"This means that money is there," he fumed.

He went on to warn that the government's failure to allocate money to pay public servants by October would be interpreted as "a deliberate ploy to cause much more suffering to our members – we shall not take this move lightly."

"What will follow the government's failure to honor the collective agreement is trouble, which will definitely come," Mwaba said.

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