Ministry of Labor Permanent Secretary Chanda Kaziya says it is not the ministry’s mandate to protect workers or employers but to penalize anyone who goes against laid down procedure on how to resolve disputes.

And Kaziya says people should understand that the ministry cannot reinstate the recognition agreement between UNZA management and UNZALARU unless both parties agree.

Meanwhile, Kaziya says it is unfortunate that UNZALARU has devoted so much energy to speaking out against Bill 10 instead of embarking on worker education.

In an interview, Kaziya said it was incorrect to say UNZALARU had been banned but that the union had been given a notice of cancellation for breaching the industrial labour Act.

“The management cannot just wake up and say ‘we have terminated the recognition’ even if they have wronged them, even if they have done an illegal strike, why? Because there is a procedure. For instance, if they were not an organized group, management could have actually dismissed them. Just for going on strike, they fire you. It is as clear as that in the Act but then for organised groupings, you have to declare a dispute on whatever matter you are not happy with. Now, the question is, should we run away from enshrined procedures on collective groups and say ‘oh, now we must go and punish management?’ Management are punished by the procedure which is enshrined in the law. Number one when you have a difference you declare a dispute; you try to conciliate on it. If you fail to conciliate on it, you go for a strike ballot. And people come and vote. That is what they have signed up for, as a union so even if the salaries are delayed, that procedure must be done,” Kaziya said.

“So you know where management has always beaten the union? It’s where the union should declare a dispute, they start talking to them and they don’t declare a dispute. Then half way when things are not done, then the union abandons the procedure, does a short cut. It is like you are quarreling with a person then the next thing, that person says something which is very bad and you punch him in the face. That’s assault. Do you think the police will say ‘no, because you were quarreling therefore we shouldn’t side with the one who insulted you?’ They will simply arrest you and send you to jail for assault…That is what is happening in this context. There’s a procedure which they are not adhering to. They are rushing to say we are not protecting the workers, no. Our role as the ministry is not to protect the workers or employers. It is to be neutral. We are supposed to be neutral, where[by] we stabilise the labour market. Whoever does not follow procedure is penalized.”

And Kaziya asked people to understand that the ministry could not reinstate the recognition agreement between UNZA management and UNZALARU unless both parties agreed.

“I see some kind of press statements everyday done by one of the union leaders. You must first understand that the cancellation of the recognition agreement is never initiated by government. Government does not in any way have a part to play in terms of cancellation of the recognition agreement because it is an employer’s agreement. Ministry of Labor cannot rescind that decision; it is management to rescind it. If management says ’we are okay, we want to reinstate the recognition agreement, then it can be reinstated because it is mutual, they both agree,” Kaziya said.

“What happened in this case of UNZALARU which is on record, they have been going on all those illegal strikes. They just wake up when they are not happy about something they say ‘we are going on strike and they have actually gone on strikes. We have had meetings with them, I went to the university to sit down with management and UNZALARU and told them that there was no law in this country which stopped you from going on a strike but that there is law which is enshrined in the law which should be followed…And now I am seeing people saying the union has been banned. No, you cannot ban a union because of Article 21 of the Constitution, you can’t ban workers’ representation, there is no provision for such.”

He said UNZALARU had been given a notice of cancellation but hearing had not begun yet.

“What can also happen is what they were given as a notice to cancel their certificate because now, they broke fundamental rules of the industrial labour act as well as their own constitution for which they exist. Now that has a three months hearing and it has not been done,” Kaziya said.

“So what you hear them say that we should rescind, what role does Ministry of Labour have? Ministry of Labour cannot rescind, it is management to rescind…Now these are challenges we are having with worker education. If union leaders at Copperbelt University and University of Zambia are failing to understand those procedures, now can you imagine for others? What hope would we have?”

Meanwhile, Kaziya said there was need for worker education but instead, their unions were wasting so much energy debating Bill 10.

“Everyone was looking up to the University of Zambia union because of the research nature. They must know what the law speaks to about the same thing. That’s why you find that lecturers in the law department are not members of UNZALARU because of people wanting to break the law arbitrary, and they are lawyers. So it becomes a bit of a problem when you have for instance that voice suffocated. They are spending more money to talk about Bill 10 when one of their secretary general gets K130,000 per month. Can you believe that? Someone gets K130,000 per month as a salary but he has not done any worker education to his union members. And when we tell them to do worker education, they say the ministry is politicking, how does that work?” asked Kaziya.

“You have see how vicious they have come on Bill 10. Imagine when we did employment code, imagine when we changed the minimum wage. Did you see any flyer speaking to the members in terms of the worker’s right as we changed the law? There is nothing. You can check around; you won’t find any flier or any article from the union that were supposed to speak for their members. But they are getting money from them. How can we keep quiet that no, ‘the workers must remain as they are and these investors are exploiting them even when the unions are present’, so there is a lot of things that we must be able to work together with them and we have told them, ‘come back to the table, we are able to discuss. Let’s do a lot of worker education so that people can follow procedure’.”