The ITUC affiliate in Zambia is the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

In practice

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On 14 October 2013, about 3,000 workers employed at Shoprite Holdings went on a strike over pay and working conditions. The National Union of Commercial and Industrial Workers was informed by management that all the workers who had gone on strike were dismissed. The company stated that workers would have to re-apply for their jobs.

The Zambia National Teachers Union (ZNUT) stated that the government is not implementing a concluded collective agreement which stipulates improved working conditions. While the agreement should have been implemented in June 2013, it is still not clear when it will be effective. The union has threatened to take strike action if the government continues to disregard the agreement.

The Kitwe City Council has engaged in disciplinary action against trade union leaders and members who had participated in a prolonged work stoppage over delayed salaries. Two trade union leaders from the Zambia United Local Authority Workers Union (ZULAWU) who were linked to the strike action, were suspended. Furthermore, ZULAWU Kitwe branch deputy secretary Stephen Kamponge and Joshua Phiri were transferred to different positions in order to prevent future union activities.

In February 2013, the government seized Collum Mine over poor working conditions and violations of trade union rights. There has been frequent industrial unrest since the mine was privatised in 2003. In October 2010, 13 mineworkers were injured when two managers at the mine opened fire on striking workers. Charges against the two managers were later dropped by the State. A pay dispute at the mine in 2012 after government raised the minimum wage resulted in a spontaneous protest by workers during which a Chinese supervisor was killed and another was injured.

In February 2012, the Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) dismissed 19 miners, including a union official from the United Mineworkers Union of Zambia (UMWUZ), for allegedly inciting miners to protest after the company awarded its employees a 17% salary rise. UMWUZ stated that the union official who had been fired was merely there to tell the workers to resume work.

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.

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.

In September, the General Secretary of the Mineworkers’ Union of Zambia (MUZ), Oswell Munyenyembe, protested that the government intimidated the union whenever it spoke out on issues affecting miners. Matters came to a head after the MUZ repeatedly voiced concerns about the government’s decision to allow Vale, a Brazilian mining giant, to start operating in Zambia. The government disregarded the union’s concerns and instead accused it of being used by the opposition. The MUZ pointed out it did not need the opposition to tell it to defend miners’ interests. The MUZ’s views and concerns about Vale were based on the company’s record of mistreating workers at mines it operated in other countries.

Former Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) President, Fackson Shamenda, observed that trade unions in the country were operating under difficult conditions, given the political climate, the economic situation and consequent job losses. Meanwhile the Labour and Social Security Minister, Austin Liato, publically criticised some employers for using temporary workers to fill traditionally permanent positions simply to avoid paying statutory employment benefits to workers, leading to growing casualisation and making union organising all the more difficult.

As a result of lengthy procedural requirements making it almost impossible for workers to hold a lawful strike, no legal strike has been held in Zambia since 1994.

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