CHAMBESHI Water and Sewerage Company Limited employees have gone for three months without being paid their salaries.

But Chambeshi managing director Luckson Simumba attributes the delay in salary payments to the company’s failure to raise enough revenue, triggered by government’s pronouncement for all utilities not to disconnect households that are defaulting on bill payments.

The workers, who spoke anonymously, engaged News Diggers! in separate interviews to reveal that they were owed three months’ salary arrears.

They also complained about their low wages, which had negatively affected their livelihoods and standard of living.

“Delayed salaries is the main challenge. Salaries are low and they delay to come and we have no idea why they delay. Generally, we are a water utility that has suffered a lot from our top management. We are not considered as unionised workers; we are in arrears of three months. We are ever promised of change that does not change. Our management does not engage us on anything. All we hear is: ‘the company has no money and government does not fund us.’ Which kind of a government would give out a directive without funding? We never know where the money goes, they spend it on unnecessary tours, which require heavy funding in allowance. Now, imagine our landlords and other creditors,” the workers said.

“We need your help in spreading our sorrows, mwandi. This company is not as bad as they make it look. We need proper leadership. People who are considerate and less intimidating and manipulative. We are hungry, frustrated and are losing hope in government and top most management as it is. I personally feel that we have been misused. No over-time, one person works for more than 10 hours! We have no freedom of speech. Our representatives are not to be trusted. They don’t stand in for us, but only for their selfish needs. They don’t give us lump sums, they just give us for a month. So, as we are speaking, we are waiting for June salaries. It is not only unionised workers that are not paid on time, even management. But the thing is, management have better salaries than the rest of us. They are always in transit, they are always moving and they have those allowances.”

But Simumba attributed the salary delays to the failure of the company to raise enough revenue due to government’s insistence for utilities not to disconnect households that were defaulting their bill payments.

“I don’t know the issue of low salaries because they negotiate for their own salaries. So, that is not a matter management can respond to. In terms of the delayed salaries, yes, they have been some delays to pay salaries because of the following factors: it is a well-known factor that the directive not to disconnect customers, who are defaulting to pay for water bills and this has affected our revenues and hence the delays in paying the salaries to the workers, including management. It is not only the unionised staff, but also management. Yesterday, we were in a meeting with the (Water Development) Minister, Honourable Dr Jonas Chanda, who promised that the Minister of Water, Energy and Finance had a tripartite meeting as directed by the President (Edgar Lungu) to bail out the utilities that are worst hit like ourselves,” Simumba narrated in a separate interview.

“So, we are hoping that the water bills that government owes the institution to a tune of K2.5 million, this money has been prioritised to be paid to Chambeshi Water. So, we are hoping that once those funds are received, the first priority is to pay the workers. So, we are hoping that within a short period of time, as promised by the Ministry, the funds will be released by (the Ministry of) Finance. Already, the Ministry of Finance has engaged us in terms of the water bills, so we sent them and we hope that the funds will come.”

Simumba said the struggling water utility had envisaged a payment plan which would reduce interaction between customers and workers in a bid to fight COVID-19.

“In terms of collections with our defaulting customers, we have gone into a payment plan with most of the customers to raise our revenue then we have also created a platform in terms of the mobile payments, customers will be paying from the comfort of their home because you know we are in the COVID period. So, in terms of interaction with our customers, that has actually reduced. That is why we cannot disconnect because of the directive and we can’t visit the properties of these customers. So, we are using a code 265# and they then are paying through MTN, Zamtel and all that,” explained Simumba.

“These are some of the initiatives we are doing and also we are communicating through the radio station to entice our customers to pay, but you know, if you are not disconnecting there is no enforcement of customers to go and pay unless you do a disconnection. So, that has affected our cash flow. But we are doing everything possible to ensure that funds are raised and then we pay the workers and also buy chemicals. It is not only workers per say, we are also looking at chemicals; we are looking at electricity; we are looking at statutory obligations…if we are not meeting all those to balance up our costs, then it may affect in one way or the other in terms of running operations. We are paying workers slowly as much as we raise the money, we pay those that we can so that we are able to reduce our indebtedness with our workers as well.”