I don’t know which government category we fall in because it seems they don’t consider us as public service workers who should be paid retirement benefits after serving, University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU) Secretary General Dr Kelvin Mambwe has complained.

Dr Mambwe says contrary to Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe’s claim that government has paid 89 per cent of terminal benefit arrears, UNZALARU retirees have not benefited from the disbursement.

Recently, Mwanakatwe told Parliament that government had released K834 million towards the payment of emoluments and terminal benefits.

“We are paying pension benefits. In other emoluments, I am saying it again that of the 1.1 billion, we have paid 834 million, which is 73 percent. And the 2018 provision is 1.36 billion. So we have paid 89 percent against the backdrop of arrears. Surely, is that not enough of the commitment on the part of this government to show that we are also concerned about our civil servants and workers? I want to assure you that we are going to continue to dismantle and hopefully get to 100 percent payment. As I said, in the 2018 budget the provision is 1.06 billion. In 2017, we paid 1.47 billion of pension benefits. So you can see that we are actually able to pay even more than what we are provided for, for 2018,” Mwanakatwe said.

But Dr Mambwe told News Diggers in an interview that government was forcing them to agree to the new terms and conditions when they were contracted on old terms and conditions.

“I don’t know what category we fall in because they don’t consider us as public service workers. So we were not part of the payment they made. Nothing has been paid yet since 2010 December. As lecturers, we sign a contract which stipulates the time when you are going to be engaged with the university. Usually it’s a four-year contract but there is what we call pensionable employment where when you reach 55, then you get retired; although they can still recall you on contract basis depending on if they still need your services,” Dr Mambwe said.

He recalled that government had promised that it would begin dismantling the pension arrears in January 2018 but two months had already passed without them being paid.

“So we are still crying for government to begin dismantling this debt. This is the 8th year and we were promised that come January [2018], they would start the process of paying retirees but they have not paid anyone and today (Wednesday) is the last day of February. So we are appealing to the minister that consider the plight of our members especially those that retired a long time ago and are no longer serving the university,” he said.

Dr Mambwe observed that government had set very difficult conditions on the debt dismantling programme.

“One of the main issues that seem to be between the debt dismantling is the condition that they have set. They have set very difficult conditions against debt dismantling which the unions are against. In fact I would say they are not willing to dialogue with us to find a lasting solution or the best way in which we can resolve some of the issues they have raised. Like two weeks ago, we were expecting to meet government and chat the way forward but they boycotted the meeting and rescheduled to a date that was not conducive to the union. So we also boycotted because the date, we couldn’t make it. And then they came out with resolutions, which appeared as if we had agreed to those conditions. But we are against those conditions not until we can sit down and find a better solution,” said Dr Mambwe.

“In fact what the unions are saying is that can they pay everyone else and then engage whoever would want to work for the university on new terms and conditions, than force the old members to agree to the new terms and conditions.”