MINISTRY of Labour permanent secretary Chanda Kaziya has urged Zambian workers not to allow foreign companies to abuse them in the name of protecting jobs.

And the permanent secretary has advised workers to always report employers flouting labour laws so that appropriate action is taken as opposed to “going to the police when you are sick”.

Kaziya on Sunday visited Sinoma Cement Plant in Lusaka where he freed over 700 workers who were being quarantined against their will at the premises for fear of spreading COVID-19.

In an interview, Kaziya wondered why Zambians allow foreign multinationals to abuse them for fear of losing jobs.

“You know, an abusive employment relationship is not a protected employment relationship. Any time, it can end. And some of the employers that you see, especially these multinationals that are coming to the country, they simply say ‘oh, these people are the enemies of themselves because they don’t trust themselves, they trust us’. Literally, they are untouchable because of the way we have perceived them. Now if you just go across, Zimbabwe, you go to Nigeria, ask them, you would not misbehave. How come someone has the leverage to misbehave here? In Nigeria and elsewhere, the workers will take you on to say ‘this is wrong and we are not going to accept this’. Now here, someone will simply say there are so many job seekers and then people get scared,” Kaziya said.

“So those are some of the challenges that we have and the employers have done extremely good at confusing the employees whereby the employees don’t see the employers as a problem, they start seeing where help is to be the problem. So the flip side of people not having to come to where the support base is, is what is causing this and this you can see it through the eroding of the confidence in our own systems and anyone who wants to abuse a worker. The only thing he has to do is to erode that confidence in your own system and think that their system is what works because a person will say I am corrupted as permanent secretary because I know them and would even actually show the card but does it mean so? And the person will take it because he knows PS, therefore the PS is corrupt without having one minute with the PS to understand to say ‘I am going through such an experience?’ What are you doing about it?”

He noted that the ministry should stop being looked at as corrupt when they side with the law because the ministry was not an activist but an arbitrator.

“The Ministry of Labour is not an activist ministry; that is the role of the trade union. We are arbitrators, which means we have to look at what the law provides. Now, at times, an employee would come with a complaint; for instance, let me take it that he signed for a contract which at the time was giving them two days as annual leave per month, then there are changes to say that it is now two and half and in that law, there is a transition period of one year before you can now start implementing the two and half, then an employee comes before that two years and says ‘here is what the law says that I must get two and half [days]’. Then we tell him to says ‘no, you are not getting two and half until the transition period has ended’. So the employer is right to give you two days. Then the employee moves out of the ministry and is aggrieved and says ‘you are compromised and you have been bought by the employer’. Why didn’t you just enforce the law the way it is?” Kaziya wondered.

And Kaziya said the ministry could not act on what had not been reported or discovered through inspections.

“As Ministry of Labour, we can only deal with the matters that come through inspections, the matters that are brought to our attention. If you are sick, and you go to the police station, what happens? Nothing, there is nothing the police officer will do about it other than to tell you to say ‘go to the hospital’. So that is what we tell them. When you have an issue, come to the Ministry of Labour, don’t go elsewhere, it will not help. You find someone goes to the councillor when he has a labour problem, the councillor will not do anything about it other than to just say, let me report to the Ministry of Labour. Now, we waste time and efficiency through that system. So it is very important that as general citizenry and as the youths, let’s change the narrative, let’s pick out these rules, let’s read them, let’s challenge the employers,” said Kaziya.