You do not need to incite a hungry person because the belly will incite you into action, says UNZALARU president Dr Evans Lampi.

Commenting on salary delays in an interview, Dr Lampi appealed to government to stop shifting the burden of external debt to local workers as it was stagnating development in the country.

Zambia’s external debt has increased to an unprecedented US $10.05 billion as at December 31, 2018, compared to US $8.74 billion by the end of 2017.

Consequently, government’s debt servicing commitments have rapidly increased to unprecedented levels of nearly US $759.9 million last year, up from around US $63 million in 2013.

Workers at the University of Zambia (UNZA) have continued to protest for more than a week due to government’s delayed payment of February salaries.

UNZA workers represented by all 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), since last week have been meeting at Graduation Square around 10:00 hours every weekday demanding payment of their February wages.

“If the issue with the government is that they’ve got a cash-flow problem simply because they are paying debts to external entities, please do not internalise them to us because what they are telling us is they are paying those who they owe. All the money ZRA is getting, they are paying externally, and then say ‘we’ll pay the workers later’ because this is more important! Basically, what you are doing is you are shifting the debt to the workers and the workers have to shift the debt to whoever has credited them with the services. And this is just bringing poverty because all of us are supporting several other people apart from relatives. We are paying services to other entities and those entities if they don’t get their money…So it’s having a ripple effect into the economy. That’s one the things we want to say,” Dr Lampi said, Monday.

He said the anger at the university was huge and hunger was inciting workers into action.

“And we are urging them, before they start telling the Chinese and other people that: ‘you investors you are breaking the law,’ government must follow its own laws, pay people on time, pay all contractual obligations that are enshrined in the laws, which they themselves have enacted in Parliament. That’s what we are saying on that one, so as far as we are concerned, the situation remains the same until people are paid,” said Dr Lampi.

“Management is saying maybe this week and they are even refusing to come address workers here. They are scared and workers are very peaceful here because the anger at the university is huge, people are very angry! And there is nothing political about this. You do not need to incite a hungry person. The belly is the inciter; the belly will incite you into action! There’s no way, everybody knows, in a country like this, Zambia, it’s hand to mouth. When the month-end comes, electricity, everything on that day and the landlord appears! We cannot go and start telling our creditors stories that ‘no, we haven’t been paid’.”

But in a separate interview, UNZA Vice-Chancellor Professor Luke Mumba denied UNZALARU’s accusations that management did not want to address UNZA workers.

“We met with the unions today, the leadership of the three unions to explain the situation on the ground. And it is the responsibility of the union leaders once we’ve discussed to go and brief their members. I met with the leaders of the three unions, UNZALARU, we met in the senate chamber at which we briefed; they understood our briefing and the meeting ended very well. So, I took after that meeting, the leaders were going to address their members. There was no expectation, at least I was not informed that we were supposed to go and meet the employees. So, that is not entirely correct what you’ve been told,” said Prof Mumba.

“We are also dependent on the Ministry of Finance to finance us, to release the grant, which goes to the salaries. So, we briefed them that we are expecting that our Ministry of Higher Education will receive the grant today from the Ministry of Finance. And because their processes to be done in terms of transfer of the grant, we expect the grant, once received by the Ministry of Higher Education, to be in the University of Zambia account by tomorrow. And then depending on what time it comes, we could start paying tomorrow afternoon or Wednesday. That’s what we briefed the leaders.”