THE University of Zambia Professional Staff Union (UNZAPROSU) says threats by the UNZA management to discipline staff members for protesting against delayed salaries are aimed at intimidating workers.

On Wednesday, UNZA Registrar Sitali Wamundila circulated a notice to all staff members in which he explained the challenges that the university was facing in raising funds to pay its employees.

Wamundila further called on workers at the university to bear with management as it was working out its challenges, but at the same time warned that any member of staff resorting to stoppage of work to protest against delayed salaries would face disciplinary action.

But commenting on the Registrar’s warning in an interview, UNZAPROSU general secretary Nalucha Mayamba charged that the university was extending dictatorship from government to the learning institution by issuing such threats.

Mayamba charged that it was unreasonable for management at UNZA to try and silence workers when they had a legitimate cause.

“In an environment which is so polluted, as you are aware, universities are government institutions. So they are just trying to replicate the political environment [which] exists. The democratic space is slowly dwindling away. So this is just extending dictatorship from the general government point of view to go to institutions now. But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” Mayamba said.

“There is supposed to be social dialogue, when there are these problems, they are supposed to sit down with us and speak to us. Even when you read through that notice, they have alleged that us as unions circulated some kind of communication to our members that we should go on strike, something that did not even happen. So actually, they have just lost it, it’s not in order and this is actually running away from their responsibilities. What they are supposed to do is honour their obligations, which is to pay employees on time and all of these issues will not be there. But this issue of wanting silence people even when they have a legitimate cause, I think it’s being unreasonable. There is supposed to be dialogue than to start threatening people, that’s undemocratic actually.”

He wondered how management expected workers to report for work without transport money.

“Actually this is where we are missing it as a country, where we don’t want to address the root cause of the problem because ideally, prior to 2019, we had never engaged ourselves in any protest of any kind. The problems started some time last year and it is as a result of the employer failing to meet their obligations. Of course there are other labour related issues where we have issues with them as management. For example, there is NAPSA which they deduct and not remit, there is gratuity owed to our members. So all these problems have been there, but the moment they started failing to pay salaries and even the illegal strike they are referring to, there has never been a time when we have gone on illegal strike. It’s a question of reality, we are working in the capital city here, the university, and for one to get to work, they need to have transport. Either you buy fuel and put in your vehicle or you jump on public transport. Now if monthend has passed and you have not gotten your salaries and you have arrears, honestly speaking who can allow you to enter in a minibus for nkongole (credit) or for free? It does not work like that,” Mayamba lamented.

“We reached a stage where people could not report for work, not because they were on strike but because logistically, it was practically impossible for them to do so. So that memo actually, those are just manoeuvres to threaten employees. But that will not deter us from claiming our rights at the place of work. In any work relationship, there are rights and obligations. So they (UNZA management) have an obligation before they claim their rights. Us we do our part, so they also have to do their part. It is actually failure for them to address the root problem; which is the inability for them as a university and government as the owner of the university, to fail to adequately fund that institution. So this is a question of just trying to silence us so that we don’t complain. But for human beings, it’s just nature that when you are pinched, you react when there is music, you dance; when there is a funeral, you mourn. Now they want us to just watch them when they have not paid our salaries on time? That’s not normal.”

Mayamba said the unions would consider declaring a dispute with management.

“At the moment, we need to meet as stakeholders. We may just reach a stage where we just have to declare an industrial dispute and then call for a mediator. We have been having these problems for a long time and it’s like they want to make this like the new normal where not paying salaries on time should now be a normal thing when it’s not. For now, we may not be able to mobilise ourselves because of the health concerns of this coronavirus. So we are unable even to call for a meeting to address our members. So in this current situation, we will sit down as stakeholders and see the way forward with other unions at UNZA and if they are agreeable, we may just need to declare a dispute with management,” said Mayamba.