The University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers’ Union has warned of a looming industrial unrest at the highest learning institution citing government’s failure to release funds to help meet costs.

In a statement, Thursday, UNZALARU General Secretary Dr Kelvin Mambwe revealed that government had stopped releasing its K39 million grant to the institution since September, making it difficult for the institution to pay salaries.

“The University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers’ Union (UNZALARU) calls on the Government to urgently remit the financial grants due to the University of Zambia in order to avoid any disruption of academic operations at the nation’s highest learning institution. The public may wish to know that, for its operations, the University of Zambia survives on internally generated resources and a monthly grant from the Government totalling K39 million. Of this amount, K15 million represents tuition fees from those students sponsored by the Government. The public may further wish to know that the Government has hardly paid its monthly statutory commitments to UNZA on time. It is this delay which, earlier this year, forced the University Management to rely on overdrafts through a commercial bank, to pay salaries of employees. This is a very unsustainable and expensive initiative but one that Management had to undertake to ensure industrial harmony at the institution. From August 2018, however, the Government stopped paying the grant altogether for unexplained reasons,” Dr Mambwe explained.

He stated that UNZA was at the verge of industrial unrest, which would affect the institutions calendar, performance and ranking.

“It is for this reason that the University, which is not in a position to pay staff salaries from internally generated resources alone, is now on the verge of industrial unrest with potentially adverse consequences to its calendar, performance and ranking. Even commercial banks are now reluctant to extend overdrafts to the University, owing to the unpaid arrears occasioned by the Government’s unexplained failure to remit the statutory grants for August and September. UNZALARU has taken the unusual step of issuing this statement to facilitate public understanding of the impeding industrial unrest at UNZA, one that is a result of the Government’s callous attitude towards higher education,” he stated.

“The staff at the University of Zambia have been accustomed to neglect from the Government, but it appears that this neglect is NOW becoming an actual policy. UNZALARU members have not been paid their salaries for September and there is no indication when they will be paid. This issue does not only affect University staff but all government employees. Zambia is in a difficult fiscal position, and it is likely that Government will introduce painful spending cuts, that the Kwacha will depreciate even further, and that the price of essential commodities including electricity will soon increase, as did that of fuel. Other groups of workers will soon find their salaries delayed or diminishing.”

Dr Mambwe noted that top government officials did not seem to be affected by the financial crisis.

“One group of state employees who do not appear to be affected are Constitutional office holders. We note with incredulity that the salaries of the President, Secretary to the Cabinet, Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, Attorney-General, Solicitor-General, Director of Public Prosecutions, Auditor General, Public Protector and Permanent Secretaries were increased in August and even backdated to January this year. This is outrageous when sources of revenue are drying up and the government is failing to meet its obligations to more important social sectors such as education. In the past, UNZALARU members have often directed their actions against University Management. In this instance, it is clear that it is the Government at fault. We demand that the Government releases the K78 million owed to UNZA to enable the University management pay the salaries of our members and other employees. Our members have bills to pay and other financial obligations that cannot be delayed,” he stated.

Dr Mambwe urged Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo to offer assistance to the lecturers instead of always condemning them for protesting.

“Finally, we note that the Minister of Higher Education, Prof Nkandu Luo, has always been swift to condemn our members when they have taken actions such as go-slows to protest their mistreatment by university authorities. However, she has not uttered a single word of protest or of any assistance to resolve the matter of unpaid salaries. If Prof Luo is unmoved by the plight of those she is supposed to serve, then what will? If she is interested in the smooth functioning of the University and the wellbeing of UNZA’s staff, we urge her to persuade her colleagues in Government to do the right thing: release the grants owed to the University immediately,” stated Dr Mambwe.