Judicial and Allied Workers Union of Zambia (JAWUZ) president Peter Mwale has asked parliamentarians not to allow the removal of clause 189 in the Constitution, which provides for retirees to remain on government payroll until their terminal benefits are paid.

The just-ended National Dialogue Forum (NDF) recommended for the removal of retired public servants awaiting their terminal benefits from government payroll to allow for speedy processing of the benefits.

But in an interview, Monday, Mwale argued that the NDF’s resolutions to remove retired civil servants from government payroll before giving them their benefits would be an injustice, describing the move as evil.

“As affiliates of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), or as a labour movement, we did participate in the National Dialogue Forum. But we were not happy with certain resolutions that were made by the NDF. In the first place, that process was a constitutional-making process; it was not a dialogue forum as some of us understand it. And the biggest problem that we have ourselves, as unions, is that we have raised concerns with the deletion of clause 189, where they are saying that public servants will not be on government salary after retirement. Previously, we used to have problems with civil servants when they retire; they used to become destitute because they were not paid their benefits on time. So, workers were suffering a lot; we used to have retirees sleeping at the bus stops and this was a very sad state of affairs. So, we fought hard with the tripartite consultative labour council and insisted that let there be a law that would safeguard the retirees,” Mwale said.

“The safeguard that we propagated as union leaders was that, since government is having a challenge to pay civil servants when they retire; let it maintain civil servants on the payroll until they are paid their terminal benefits. We worked hard in 2015 for that law to be put in the Constitution. Now, two years down the line, some people somewhere have decided to say: ‘let’s remove this provision,’ how? The question that’s lingering in our minds is this: are we progressive as workers in this country? Are we moving forward in this country? The answer is no! We can’t be driven backwards again because we know where we are coming from. We know the reasons why we advocated for that provision in the Constitution. We wanted to ensure that workers after rendering their service to the country, they should not turn destitute. We wanted the dignity of workers to continue. Just imagine someone has been getting a salary per month, then when they retire, they are removed from payroll and not given benefits! How do they expect you to survive? Surely, that resolution by the NDF is misplaced and it’s going to cause untold suffering and misery on the workers.”

He insisted that removing retired civil servants from government payroll before giving them their benefits would be an injustice.

“That piece of legislation is very progressive and whoever proposed that it should be removed is not normal, I can tell you. Why I am saying this is because the removal of that provision from the Constitution requires now that we are going back to square one where workers when they retire, they begin to suffer. We are going back to the situation where retirees sleep at bus stops and traveling from all over Zambia to claim for their benefits from government. But is that the way we want to run the country? I think we need to respect workers’ rights. That is why we went and made an earnest appeal through the Secretary to Cabinet that, ‘please don’t remove this provision because it is now safeguarding the interests of retirees.’ And what sort of thinking is this? It’s weird, it’s very evil and it should not be entertained by well-meaning citizens,” said Mwale.

“By the way, right now as we speak retirees don’t even have pension to talk about. All pension houses have collapsed in this country. So, the situation will even get worse when it is decided that public servants should not be on payroll when they retire. Right now, Public Service Pensions Fund (PSPF) has got a deficit of about K52 billion, meaning that if you retired today, it would take you three years just to get your benefits! There is no money to pay that’s why people are suffering after retirement. We are appealing to all well-meaning parliamentarians that when they go to Parliament, they should not allow this provision to be removed from the Constitution. We want that section 189, which protects the interests of workers, to remain in the Constitution. We advocated and fought hard to have that clause enshrined in the Constitution of Zambia. Now, I don’t understand how people came from the taverns and bars, got drunk and went and proposed that it should be removed from the Constitution; that is madness! They want workers of this country to continue suffering after retirement? That is being evil.”