UNZALARU president Dr Evans Lampi says if government has failed to run higher learning institutions, it should close them down and allow people to go and seek employment elsewhere.

And Copperbelt University Academics Union General Secretary Willie Ngosa says since lecturers can’t put water in their vehicles when going to conduct classes, they will stay away.

Meanwhile, UNZA Vice-Chancellor Professor Luke Mumba has appealed for patience saying government has promised to issue the grant on Friday.

Monday, workers at both UNZA and CBU downed tools over non payment of February salaries.

At UNZA, workers represented by all the three labour unions; University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers’ Union (UNZALARU), University of Zambia Professional Staff Union (UNZAPROSU), and University of Zambia Allied Workers’ Union (UNZAAWU) converged at the graduation square around 10:00 hours demanding payment of their February dues.

Prof Mumba then went to address them, saying he was equally unhappy about what was going on.

“I just thought that before your major meeting, I should update you on where we are on this all important issue of salaries. In fact, it is not right to say ‘it is just money’, you are trivialising, this is a matter of life and death. A hungry person is an angry person so nobody takes kindly to what is going on. Yes, Mwine Mushi (village owner) is here but he is a very sad Mwine Mushi,” Prof Mumba said.

Prof Mumba said the grant was only expected on Friday.

“Your management has been doing everything possible to obtain the grant from our ministry. The whole of last week, when we were having graduation we’ve been doing that. The bursar and his team have literally been camping at Ministry of Finance to follow up on the grant. As early as this morning, around 7, I was on the phone with the PS to get the latest update on the issue. And the information I’ve been given is that today is a bit complicated, we should not expect to be paid today but the assurance or the information he has given me. Is that he’s working very closely with the Ministry of Finance to ensure the grant is released by Friday this week,” Mumba said as UNZA workers mourned in protest.

“As I was coming, I called bursar to say ‘can you give me the latest information’ and he said ‘sir, today is definitely out’. I think the message really from the PS is that the ministry is still collecting money but he is very sure that by Friday this week, the grant will be with us. On our part we’re doing everything possible and the PS also, our PS in the Ministry of Higher Education is constantly in touch with his counterpart at Ministry of Finance. So am appealing to you to exercise some patience,” said Prof Mumba as some lecturers were heard saying they would only return to the institution on Friday.”

He said what was happening at UNZA was not peculiar to the institution.

“You may wish to know that this situation is not peculiar to UNZA. It is happening to several other institutions including the mainframe civil service. There are still some line ministries that have not yet been paid their salaries. I am appealing to you all to exercise some patience, it is not easy but that’s where we are, this is the gravity of the situation on the ground,” said Prof Mumba.

But in an interview, Dr Lampi said the workers would not resume their duties until they were paid, adding that if government had failed to run higher learning institutions, it was better to close them.

“All the three workers’ unions at the University of Zambia, what they are getting is that salaries are not ready because government has failed to fund the institution for last months’ salary. This is the 11th, last month we got paid on the 10th, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign that this salary is going to be paid any time soon. The Vice Chancellor, speaking on behalf of government said that by Friday, maybe the salary will be paid but our members have flatly refused to accept that explanation and have vowed that they will only attend to duties relating to the university when their salaries are paid. And as labour leaders, we have talked to our members and since they have said they are not going to work, we are with that, there is nothing we can do at this point. The ball is in the government’s court,” Dr Lampi said.

“We will be meeting here every day until they pay us our salaries. We are not optimistic about what government is saying because we have heard these stories before. This is normal for government, giving promises which they cannot keep, every month it is the same story. As far as we are concerned, it seems the government is broke. Can they tell the nation that ‘we are broke, we cannot run our institutions’ instead of making everybody guess. How can something as simple as salaries; people work you pay them their salaries, become a mystery? As we have been told right now by the Vice Chancellor, the Ministry of Finance is saying ‘they are still collecting money’. Collecting money from where? ZRA? So you are going to run a country like the way you run a house? ‘Let me go find some money, I’ll come and we’ll buy mealie meal’, no! This is a very big institution, you don’t run a university in this manner. Government, if they have failed, they should just tell us, close the institutions and people go find jobs somewhere else.”

Dr Lampi said government needed to apply some seriousness in dealing with the affairs of higher learning institutions.

“If the institution is not funded, it is the problem of government, government is failing to run these institutions. It is not just salaries, they owe pensioners eight years back. People are on their third contracts. You finish a contract they don’t pay you your gratuity, you finish another contract, they don’t pay, you are on your third contract and they haven’t paid you your gratuities. So what we are saying is that it seems they don’t have the ability or they are not willing. Maybe they are using the money for something else,” said Dr Lampi.

“We appeal that institutions such as the university and other institutions like health institutions be looked at with urgency. These are the bloodline of the nation. If you do not have institutions such as the University of Zambia, many professionals out there will not be there. We are the ones who train the doctors, economists…so I think there has to be a little more seriousness in the way these institutions are looked at. There is always a rush, when there are problems here they say ‘oh no, universities are just unruly’. You provoke situations and then you say ‘they are unruly?’ Look at the problems before they start, not reacting after they have gone out of hand.”

Meanwhile, CBU lecturers also downed tools, saying they could not put water in their cars.

“Our members are stuck and don’t know what to do. The only information we are getting is that management is still waiting for government to fund, which for us is strange because these people have been employed to source for funding and not just sit in their offices and waiting for funding. So we wrote to them and told them that our members won’t be available because they don’t have means of coming to work. We can’t put water in our vehicles, others come from far places like Ndola, Kalulushi and it is just impossible for them to move. So the situation remains the same no classes,” said Ngosa.