THE Zambia Water and Sanitation Engineering and Allied Workers Union has dragged the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company Limited (LWSC) to court, demanding a salary increment of 15 percent across the board for unionized employees for 2020 to 2021.

The union, which has sued LWSC in the Lusaka High Court, Industrial Relations Division, states that shortly before salary negotiations began in December 2019, LWSC, around October 2019 purchased entirely from own resources 23 brand new luxury vehicles namely a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado GX for the managing director at US$120,000, five Toyota Fortune vehicles for directors at US$87,000 each, among others.

It stated that in addition to the fuel allowance already consolidated to salaries for management staff, LWSC went on to arrange Tom Cards which are loaded with money equivalent to cost of 250 and 200 litres each for directors and managers, respectively.

The union is now seeking a consolidation of salary into one block comprising current basic salary, education allowance, transport allowance and water allowance with a subsequent 40 percent increase in stand alone housing.

It also wants an increase of K2,500 in funeral grant and a further payment of K10,000 and K5,000 for burial sites within and outside Lusaka respectively.

The union is also claiming an amendment of clause on uniforms and protective clothing by the insertion of a particular month for actual issuance of the uniform and protective clothing namely “January of each year”.

But in its answer, LWSC has asked the court to dismiss the claim with each party bearing its costs, stating that it was impossible to award the union any of the reliefs sought.

It has lamented that due to unfavourable financial situation, it was unable to meet the union’s claim in its entirety for the collective bargaining period 2020 to 2021.

LWSC also stated that the vehicles bought were for the company and not for individuals.

In its statement of claim, Zambia Water and Sanitation Engineering and Allied Workers Union (the referor in this matter) stated that it was a trade union duly recognised by LWSC as an employer.

It explained that by way of collective bargaining for 2020 to 2021 conditions of service, it on or about December 2019 presented some demands to LWSC, namely salary consolidation, funeral grant, protective clothing and salary increment.

The union stated that initially salary consolidation was proposed by LWSC during negotiations for previous collective agreement, but the union needed to consult its members before taking a position on the same.

It stated that meanwhile, LWSC immediately consolidated salaries of its management staff, including among others, allowances, fuel allowance which was equivalent of 250 litres of fuel per person per month for local movement within Lusaka.

The union stated that having consulted its members, it proposed that for its members, consolidation should include transport, water and education allowances.

It added that it further proposed that after consolidation of the said three allowances, housing allowance as a stand alone allowance be at 33 percent of the consolidated salary.

The union further stated that in terms of revenue, LWSC has without spending any amount of its own, reaped some benefits from the Millenium Challenge Kafue Bank Water Project.

It stated that the benefits included among others, the construction of new and Parallel water supply pipeline from Kafue to Lusaka, construction of new bulk water treatment plant in Kafue and receiving a new office block at Stuart Park East; project vehicles and other assets from the Millenium Challenge Project.

The union further stated that the outbreak of COVID-19 had been a blessing in disguise to LWSC in that washing of hands in public places entails more usage of water, and that by having people working from and staying home, the billing of household water supplied has actually doubled over the months.

“From the above, the respondent has more than enough financial capacity to meet and grant the referors’ proposals,” read the claim.

But in its answer, LWSC asked the court to dismiss the claim with each party bearing its costs.

It stated that the award of the union of any of its claims was highly detrimental to its (LWSC’s) continued existence and may result in the union’s members losing out on their accrued benefits.

Regarding the union’s claim that in 2019, LWSC awarded its members an 8 percent salary increment while management staff were awarded 10 percent salary increment, the respondent said this was not correct as management staff were also awarded an 8 percent salary increment and not 10 percent as alleged.

It further argued that the union had no locus standi to discuss conditions of service for management as the said conditions of service were not part of the collective bargaining process.

“It is not the mandate of the collective Bargaining Unit to discuss management conditions of service,” the respondent stated.

It however, stated that it purchased motor vehicles using internally generated funds, further stating that the vehicles were purchased as part of LWSC motor vehicle replacement plan which was even behind schedule.

“The vehicles bought were for the respondent company and not for individuals. A total of 174 vehicles were due for replacement between 2015 and 2020. The respondent has not been able to procure vehicles as per motor vehicle replacement plan due to poor cash flows. However, the vehicles would still be procured as and when cash flows allow since the respondent’s operations are transport intensive. The total vehicles bought were as follows; five personal to holder vehicles, 16 duty vehicles for managers and 15 departmental/operational vehicles,” LWSC stated.

It further stated that the rationale for the introduction of fuel allowance for directors and managers was that fuel for the said categories of staff was primarily for operations and not for personal use.