Zambia: Importance of Understanding Labour Laws

BARELY a day passes without hearing of workers, especially those working in factories and industries, protesting over low wages and poor conditions of service.

This is mainly due to lack of understanding labour matters on the part of both the employer and employees.

These daily industrial unrests not only disrupt smooth operations but are also an affront to achieving meaningful economic development.

Social dialogue is an integral component of decent work and an essential channel for achieving it.

Similarly, the prompt and equitable settlement of labour disputes is a key component of social dialogue, and also a means of ensuring further social dialogue.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and, in particular the InFocus Programme on Social Dialogue, Labour Law and Labour Administration (IFP/Dialogue), is mandated to assist member states to establish or strengthen dispute prevention or resolution mechanisms so that disputes are dealt with more efficiently, effectively and equitably.

Effective social dialogue among governments, employers' and workers' organisations, and sound industrial relations, are means to the promotion of social justice, inclusive economic growth, improved wages and working conditions and sustainable enterprises.

As instruments of good governance at all levels, from the local to the global, they foster an enabling environment for the realisation of decent work for all.

Social dialogue includes negotiation, consultation and information exchange between and among governments, employers' and workers' organisations.

Others are collective bargaining between employers or employers' organisations and workers' organisations.

The rest are dispute prevention and resolution and other approaches such as workplace cooperation, international framework agreements and social dialogue in the context of regional economic communities.

According to ILO, social dialogue is a precondition for sound social dialogue.

This is because strong, independent and representative employers' and workers' organisations have the technical capacity to participate in social dialogue and access to relevant information.

Political will, trust and commitment to engaging in social dialogue by all the parties, in respect for the fundamental rights of freedom of association and effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining and an enabling legal and institutional framework, is important.

Recently, Labour and Social Security Minister Brenda Tambatamba was on the Copperbelt to inspect G&G Bakery and Scaw Limited, both of Kitwe, and Neelkanth Cables Limited of Masaiti.

During the visit, Ms Tambatamba said social dialogue between employers and employees and formation of unions to represent workers was important in a bid to avoid industry disharmony.

At G&G Bakery where workers complained of low salaries and long workers hours among other labour challenges, the minister advised management to ensure that all the grievances highlighted were ironed out immediately.

While stressing on the need for employers to understand the tripartite agreement, Ms Tambatamba noted that employers should know that it was an offence to employ someone for more than six months without giving them a contract.

She said the government would continue advocating a decent work agenda, adding that employers and employees should be like Siamese twins whereby each part was happy with the other's input.

Masaiti District Commissioner Annie Matutu observed that while Neelkanth Cables had created jobs for the locals, there was a need for the company to increase the workers' salaries, provide adequate personal protective equipment and find ways of reducing lead emissions from the lime plant.

Ms Matutu said there was a need for the company to offer attractive housing to its workforce.

A workers' representative at Neelkanth Cables said it had taken a long time for the collective agreement to be approved and implemented by management.

Ministry of Labour principle labour officer HlupeLuchembe and her Copperbelt counterpart Constantine Mazimba assured that inspectors would heighten their inspections as it was an offence for any employer to be abrogating labour laws with impunity.

Copperbelt Province Minister Elisha Matambo said the provincial administration was elated that Ms Tambatamba was recently in the province on an inspection programme.

Mr Matambo said the province was a sensitive region in the economy of the country.

He was hopeful that Ms Tambatamba and her team were urgently going to acquaint themselves with operations of some companies which were allegedly flouting labour laws.

According to Mr Matambo, several workers around the province were complaining, hence the need for the minister's visit so that both workers and employers would respect each other's rights to avoid unnecessary industrial disharmony.

He added that with the peace that had been restored in the province, everyone was expected to be answerable to the law.

In response, Ms Tambatamba said with more investment opportunities earmarked for the province, there was a need for employers to abide by Zambian labour laws and put occupational safety health measures in practice.

The minister said her ministry would continue creating avenues and sensitise employers on how to ensure that workers were protected at their places of work.

She added that conditions should be provided for workers not to worry about their safety and lives every day they report for work.

It is against this backdrop that Zambia, through the Worker's Compensation Fund Control Board, will be hosting the Vision Zero conference, which is a campaign aimed at raising awareness on work safety.

The event will be held from September 7 to 8, 2023 in Livingstone.

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