4 – Systematic violations of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index


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

Zambia ratified Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948) in 1996 and Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949) in 1996.

In practice

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Protests against the forced retirement of union general secretary28-10-2020

Trade unionists condemn the treatment of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) general secretary, Cosmas Mukuka, who was forced into retirement by the Zambian government under the orders of the Teaching Service Commission.
Mr Mukuka was informed that he would no longer be able to serve in the capacity of general secretary due to his retirement. The ZCTU maintains that Mr Mukuka was not consulted at any point about this decision. Although Mr Mukuka was later reinstated to his role following mass complaints by unionists, there remains doubt over his ability to serve in a governmental capacity due to mandatory retirement age limits.

Striking Zambian Council workers suspended21-11-2019

As a result of the central government of Zambia delaying funds to local government authorities that should pay workers’ salaries, council workers in Zambia have recently been on go-slow. At the date of writing, 64 out of 103 councils in Zambia had not paid workers their salaries, and it had been 90 days since workers last received their monthly salaries.

In response to the protests, the Zambian government has suspended striking workers councils that took up action. Unions have firmly condemned the suspensions as meant to dissuade other workers from following suit. The Zambian United Local Authorities Workers Union (ZULAWU), a PSI-affiliate, condemned the accumulation of salary arrears. PSI and its affiliates adopted a resolution during the 13th Africa and Arab Countries Regional Conference (AFRECON) in Lomé, Togo, invoking the provisions of ILO Convention 95 on the Protection of Wages. Article 12 of the convention states that wages shall be paid regularly. Failure to pay wages regularly is a clear violation of this provision and a violation of the dignity of the workers and their families.

Dangote confronted over union busting06-07-2018

The National Union of Commercial and Industrial Workers and the Mineworkers Union of Zambia denounce the absence of unionisation at the Masaiti plant – nine kilometres outside Ndola – which employs more than 1,000 workers, due to the company frustrating union activity and dismissing workers for joining unions.
Dangote, an African multinational cement company, which has outsourced most its core work, signed a contract with Silondwa Engineering to “ensure that its employees are not involved in union activities and strikes that lead to stopping of work”. Further, a worker can be given a final warning for “incitement to strike”.
With no wage increases in four years, workers transferred to Silondwa Engineering and who work under precarious conditions describe Dangote as one of the worst employers.

Efforts by Joyce Nonde-Simukoko, the minister of labour and social security, to force Dangote to recognise workers’ rights have not been successful, but unions are not giving up the fight.
After recruiting and organising over 500 workers at the Dangote Cement plant in Masaiti, Zambian unions were being prevented from meeting with their members and collecting membership fees because of the company’s blatant violation of workers’ rights and union busting practices.
At a meeting in Ndola on 5 July, the Mineworkers Union of Zambia, the National Union of Commercial and Industrial Workers and the National Union of Building, Engineering and General Workers met with representatives from Dangote and presented them with a petition demanding that the company stops violating workers’ rights. Also, of concern to unions is that Dangote employs only 15 permanent workers and has outsourced over 1,000 workers to different subcontractors.
After the meeting, the unions drove to the Masaiti plant, where they picketed. Workers who joined the picket gave testimonies on how bad the wages and working conditions were.

Numsa officials harassed by Zambian immigration officials and sent home06-04-2018

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has lodged a complaint with both the South African and Zambian authorities over what it calls the harassment and ill-treatment of Numsa officials by Zambian immigration authorities last weekend.
According to the union, two Numsa officials who flew to Zambia on 31 March 2018 to attend the launch of the new Socialist Party were harassed by immigration officials at the airport who stopped them and then sent them back to South Africa.
“Their paperwork was in order and they were not carrying anything illegal. They were simply flying in on a one-day trip to support their comrades who were launching the Socialist Party in Zambia last weekend‚” Numsa said in a statement.
“The Zambian officials prevented them from proceeding to their destination. Furthermore‚ they detained them for several hours‚ unjustifiably confiscating their phones and passports‚ and then sent them back home.
“Our members were treated like common criminals and yet they had done nothing wrong. A pregnant woman was amongst those detained and she was denied water and food for several hours by the immigration authorities,” the union said.

Minister announces removal of student trade unions from university councils02-11-2017

During the parliamentary hearing on 2 November 2017, the Higher Education Minister confirmed her intent to remove student trade union representatives from university councils of public universities including Copperbelt University and the University of Zambia (UNZA). The Minister accused trade union representatives of focusing too much on bursaries. She announced that all students were free to engage her individually without going through the unions. On 2 January 2018, the Minister’s decision was condemned by the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which called on its affiliates to reject the proposal the Minister had sent to the Cabinet.

Striking workers suspended by Luanshya Copper Mines 10-01-2017

On 9 January, hundreds of Luanshya Copper Mines (LCM) workers organised a strike demanding a 25 per cent salary increment raise across the board, claiming that they had not received an incremental increase in the previous three years. The issue was subject to negotiations between LCM and both the Mine Workers Union of Zambia (MUZ) and the National Union of Miners and Allied Workers (NUMAW). The management of LCM called the strike illegal and on 10 January suspended seven of the striking workers for allegedly inciting the work stoppage. The matter was subject to immediate intervention by the Copperbelt Minister who called on the management to lift the suspension. The management of LCM agreed to reinstate the suspended workers but, at the same time, appealed to the government to also safeguard the interest of investors, arguing that the work stoppage had adversely affected the operations of the mine.

Salaries of unionised workers delayed at the University of Zambia 31-08-2016

Three staff unions of the University of Zambia announced a possibility of a strike if the August salaries of unionised workers were not paid by the end of the month. The University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union, the University of Zambia Professional Staff Union and the University of Zambia and Allied Workers Union relied upon the fact that the workers of the University were supposed to receive their salaries by the 18th-20th of every month but, over the previous months, salaries for unionised staff were systematically delayed.

Judiciary unionist fired for claiming rights to the President of Zambia13-01-2016

On 13 January 2016, the Judicial Service Commission fired Chairman of Judiciary and Allied Workers Union of Zambia Copperbelt, Mr Paul Chilosha. Chilosha had declared that judiciary workers intended to make their voice heard in 2016 and that the President Edgar Lungu would not have it easy if he refused to increase salaries by a reasonable amount. Following these statements Chilosha received a letter of termination of his employment by the Judiciary Service Commission on behalf of the President Lungu.

Workers are dismissed for striking15-10-2013

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.

Violation of collective agreement05-07-2013

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.

Anti-union discrimination05-06-2013

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.

Violence against trade unionists28-02-2013

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.

Anti-union discrimination31-07-2012

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.

Labour rights abuses at Chinese run mines31-12-2011

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.

Charges dropped against Chinese supervisors charged in mine shooting01-04-2011

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.

Government intimidation31-12-2010

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.

Unions facing difficult conditions and growing casualisation31-12-2010

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.

Legal strikes futile30-11-2009

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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