University of Zambia (UNZA) professional unions say perpetual delay to pay lecturers’ salaries at the institution is a deliberate ploy by management and the Ministry of Higher Education to cause mental anguish and torture to its members.

The University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers’ Union (UNZALARU), University of Zambia Professional Staff Union (UNZAPROSU), and University of Zambia Allied Workers’ Union (UNZAAWU) collectively wondered why their members were always receiving salaries late, after other mainstream civil service and defence forces, when funding came from one basket.

In a joint statement, which was signed by UNZALARU General Secretary Dr Kelvin Mambwe and his UNZAPROSU counterpart Nalucha Mayamba, also accused UNZA management and the government of being champions of lawlessness, saying they do not even obey court rulings.

“We would like to inform the general public of the current unpleasant state of affairs at the institution of higher learning. It appears maladminstration and incompetence has become part of the ‘DNA’ of how the institution is being managed by both management and the government under the Ministry of Higher Education. The following are among the many issues that we want the public to be aware of before our next course of action: 1. Perpetual delay in releasing the monthly grant by the Ministry of Finance through the Ministry of Higher Education to contribute towards payroll cost; it has become like a ‘Constitutional Compliance Act’ by the Ministry of Finance through the Ministry of Higher Education to delay releasing the monthly grant, which contributes only 30 per cent of the payroll cost. As of today, 5th February, 2019, the January salaries have not been paid yet due to non-remittance of the grant by the government and UNZA management do not know when the salaries will be paid. Surely, should payment of salaries be a myth like the second coming of Jesus?” the unions wondered.

“We feel that this perpetual delay is a calculated deliberate act meant to cause mental anguish and torture to our members because always the mainstream civil service and defence forces get paid before us and yet funding comes from one basket. We would like to remind and warn UNZA management and the Ministry that failing to pay salaries on the appropriate date as provided for in the Employment Act and domesticated in the collective agreements is a breach of employment contractual terms and conditions. We are aware that UNZA and the government are champions of lawlessness as sometimes they do not even obey court rulings and in this respect, we wish to warn that we also capable of becoming lawless and unreasonable as no one should have monopoly of causing anarchy and inconveniencing others.”

The unions also complained that the new financing strategy for public universities had no financial resources to realise its objectives.

“Government developed a new finance strategy for public universities through a cab memo and was approved on 14th August, 2017. This finance strategy has many objectives, which among them are: to help liquidate public universities’ debt; help avoid possible insolvency of public universities because of the new Republican Constitution, which provides that retired employees be retained on the payroll as long as their dues are not paid; improve quality of education; harmonise conditions of service in three public universities using the concept of the 2012 public pay policy and other tools such as joint negotiations. In order to attain the objectives of the financing strategy, financial resources are required, and to this effect, in 2018, the Ministry of Higher Education through the Ministry of Finance, budgeted about K101 million towards dismantling of debt, but shockingly, only K23 million was released later December, 2018. The University owes retirees, deceased and serving employees a total of about K655.9 million, which, according to the financing strategy, should be settled within a period of three years starting 2018. We are now in 2019 and only K23 million has been released against their own commitments!” the unions disclosed.

The unions further observed that the Ministry of Higher Education was using a “dictatorial management style” whereby they imposed decisions and policy changes without consulting major stakeholders.

“The proposed transition of UNZA from a unitary system into college system is purely the Ministry’s creation and this was normalized by asking UNZA management to prepare ‘a smoke free screen’ position paper so that it appears as if the request came from UNZA when in fact not. We, as employees of this institution, were not consulted or explained to about this transition and its financial implications. This creation is not different from the failed health boards systems under health reforms at Ministry of Health. We are also aware that this new system has a huge budget due to money high ranking positions to be created in the organizational structure. The creation of new high ranking positions in the university is a ploy meant to provide employment corruptly to friends and relatives within the system. If the institution is currently struggling financially, why create more problems by expanding the staff establishment? Besides, no budget allocation has been given to UNZA to implement this unnecessary structural change,” the unions stated.

And the unions also condemned the Ministry of Higher Education’s direct involvement in some operational matters of the institution, saying they were contrary to good corporate governance practices.

“As the public may wish to know, the University Act of 2013 prescribes how universities are supposed to be managed and, among other things, it provides for the appointment of University Councils, which is a policy-naming body. The Council in-turn appoints management, and the Ministry of Higher Education appoints Council. The relationship of the Ministry and UNZA is similar to a shareholder and a company. What is currently happening is that the Ministry is micromanaging public universities by directly issuing instructions and policy changes to management as opposed to channel the same through University Council. It should be noted that we, the trade unions at the University of Zambia, have for the past three years desisted to engage ourselves in activities, which could have resulted in major industrial unrest, but with the issues highlighted above, we are unable to guarantee any industrial harmony at this institution. It appears government and management only understand the language of anarchy and lawlessness, which we are willing and capable of speaking,” warned the unions.