THE University of Zambia management says the three UNZA unions which have decided to be on go slow without exhausting legally constituted procedures are breaching the law.
And the UNZA management says government cannot be coerced into resolving the K700 million debt which the institution owes in gratuities and pension benefits, overnight, because there are many areas of priority requiring the same attention.
Meanwhile, UNZA vice-chancellor Professor Luke Mumba says he does not run the university as if it belongs to him.
On Friday last week, the University of Zambia Allied and Workers’ Union (UNZAAWU), the University of Zambia Professional Staff Union (UNZAPROSU) and the University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers’ Union (UNZALARU) resolved to go on go-slow until their gratuities are paid.
The unions also called for the removal of the university’s top management led by Professor Mumba for allegedly mismanaging the university for the past five years.
But in a statement, Monday, UNZA acting head of communication and marketing Damaseke Chibale said the demands by the three Unions were surprising as management had always engaged in social dialogue with all Unions.
He stated that the demand by the unions that UNZA top management should vacate their offices was a recipe for anarchy.
“Management of the University of Zambia (UNZA) has learnt of the demands by the three Unions namely, UNZALARU, UNZAPROSU and UNZAAWU with a sense of surprise. This is so because Management has always engaged in social dialogue with all the Unions to resolve any grievances that they may have from time to time. This dialogue also includes collective bargaining which has been going on since early this year. Therefore, management finds the allegations that it does not dialogue with the Unions to be unfortunate and untruthful,” Chibale said.
“With respect to the demand that top management must vacate its offices, our law is quite lucid on how a Vice-Chancellor, or indeed any member of top management can vacate their offices. To demand that top management vacates its offices at the whim of certain individuals or groupings is a recipe for anarchy and a flagrant breach of the law.”
He argued that government could not be coerced overnight into resolving the K700 million debt which the University owes in gratuities and pension benefits as it had many areas of priority requiring the same attention.
“In so far as payment of terminal benefits for serving members of staff are concerned, this is a matter that the Unions have taken to court. This matter is actively before the court where it is being adjudicated under cause No. 2021/HP/0179. To avoid being sub judice, we are constrained to say much about it. Notwithstanding the above, it is worth mentioning for the benefit of the public that the total debt that the university owes in respect of gratuities and pension benefits stands around K700 million. This colossal debt was communicated to government. Government is fully aware of it and government being the main funder of the university, has assured management of its commitment to look into it,” Chibale said.
“However, government cannot be coerced into resolving a debt of such magnitude overnight as it has many areas of priority requiring the same attention as this one. It is worth noting that this debt is a legacy issue spanning the year 2011, way before the current administration took office in 2016. This is the more reason why government, and in particular cabinet mooted and approved the new strategy for financing the three major public universities namely UNZA, CBU and MU.”
Chibale said the UNZA management could not commit to increased financial obligations without a definite income stream from government and internal resources to appease the three trade unions.
“In so far as collective bargaining is concerned, parties agreed to disagree during this year’s collective bargaining sessions and the process of conciliation was evoked. The disagreement arising from collective bargaining was inevitable due to serious financial constraints that have irked the University in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Management could not commit to increased financial obligations without a definite income stream both from government and internal resources to appease the three trade unions,” said Chibale.
“When it failed, one Union attempted to carry out a strike by ballot and the matter was subsequently taken to court. It is sad to note that while such legally constituted procedures and processes are not exhausted, the Unions are making such demands in full breach of the law. Last but not least, management wishes to emphasize that it is still committed to dialogue with the Unions with a view to foster industrial harmony and a flourishing academic and research environment.”
Meanwhile, in an interview, Prof Mumba said only his supervisors could state whether or not he had been mismanaging the university.
“I have seen the statement but we are still consulting with the ministry. You know Professor Mumba does not run the University of Zambia like it’s his institution. That institution belongs to government, whatever we do, we do it on behalf of government and the people of Zambia. So, before I can make any comment, I need to consult my superiors which is government and the university council but at the moment, we don’t have a council so I have to consult with the line ministry. My supervisors are the ones who know whether I have been mismanaging the university or not,” said Prof Mumba.
“So, I need to consult my supervisors. It does not matter whether my name was mentioned, I report to my supervisors which is the line ministry, the Ministry of Education. In fact maybe, it will be them who are going to comment. UNZA is a public institution so we must understand that. Give us time, we are still studying the statement in consultation with the line ministry.”