LABOUR Minister Joyce Nonde Simukoko says she and officials in the Ministry of Labour are not God to guess the wrongs being done against Zambian workers if those affected do not report to relevant authorities.
And Simukoko has advised Zambian workers to stop being cowards and allowing themselves to be exploited by employers.
Meanwhile, the former trade unionists says it is illegal for workers to be held hostage at their place of work without authorization from the Ministry of Labour.
In an interview, Simukoko said if the current generation was the one that existed during the liberation struggle, the country would still be under colonial rule because today’s workers had too much fear of the unknown.
“Now if we are going to be cowards, then we are not going to implement anything. The generation of today, if it was the generation which was there to gain independence, by now, we could still have been under colonial rule because people are scared of the unknown. Now us as Ministry of Labour, we are not God; as minister, I won’t guess what is happening in Kafue, I am not a super human being. So that’s why relationships between employer and employee, the most important thing is communication, we should communicate to each other. So I am appealing to all the workers to know their rights and communicate to us, we even have a toll line now, we have told them they can call us on a toll line and tell us. If they are cowards, they should tell us that this is the employer and this is how we are working without necessarily them telling us their name, we have done all that,” Simukoko said.
She said her ministry had not received any complaints from workers working for Chinese businesses but would get details from Lusaka Mayor Miles Sampa on the Chinese companies that were forcing employees to stay on their premises in a bid to avoid them being exposed to the Coronavirus.
“So those people have not reported to us, we don’t know the workers, we haven’t seen them. Anyway, for the mayor, yes he apologized and I think our Labour Commissioner will be getting the details from him but we haven’t heard anywhere else. That is also the only one we saw but what I am saying is workers have the right to report the employer if that employer is forcing them to do what is not in the labour laws. They have a right to report to our ministry or utilize the District Commissioners, they are there and they have been very active to help us on issues of labour,” Simukoko said.
She said only certain classes of workers were allowed to work during the night as it was illegal to force workers to sleep at places of work.
“But the Chinese also, we have told them that they need to first write to us or come and see us and tell us why they want people to start sleeping there and if they are going to have people to stay there, the inspectors are going to see whether the place is conducive for them to stay there and just why they should stay there. But you see, just one day you wake up and say people should sleep here, it’s not correct and it’s not law. So if the workers, you know, the workers also must know their rights, that’s the problem we have because people in Zambia don’t want to read. We have labour laws, people must read and understand them and I tell them every day, there is no one who can fire you for saying the truth, let them fire you if you are lying. But if you are telling the truth, how can they fire you? You will be reinstated but there is fear, fear of the unknown,” said Simukoko.
“So no employer has the right to force anyone to sleep at a work place. We have nurses, we have doctors, we have certain classes of employees that work overnight but anything other than that, they have to communicate to the Ministry of Labour…and where there is no Ministry of Labour, we always work with District Commissioners in other cases. They will go there and see whether it’s conducive and what the reason is [for wanting workers to be sleeping at places of work]. So it’s not just waking up and say people should come and work at night.”