In Zambia, May Day has many interpretations. To some, it is simply another day for marching and wearing “kompolishon”. Others consider it a date on the calendar when their demands for improved working conditions must be answered by the employers; while to those in political leadership, it is another occasion for making more fake promises.
Whatever the interpretation, there is really nothing that we have achieved on this day as a country. It’s all about rhetorical speeches and routine formalities for stakeholders.
Officiating at the 2017 International Labour Day celebrations, President Edgar Lungu said government was going to create a minimum of 200,000 jobs within 12 months, and pledged to do this every other year, with serious commitment to the promotion of decent work.
We are yet to find the required microscope that can help us see those 200,000 jobs that have been created in the past 12 months. Perhaps our fellow ‘countrymen’ from China have been able to meet that target of employment creation, but as far as we are concerned, native Zambians are actually losing jobs to foreigners. On the other hand, the government is struggling to replace retirees because it has no money to meet the demand.
Elsewhere, on this day, labour movements across the world get together to honourably celebrate the achievements of the workers. Of course we do imitate this treat in our country by giving out a few worthless presents to a couple of selected workaholics from government departments, but such recognition is the last thing that worries a Zambian worker.
Our workers, particularly those in the formal sector, are troubled by few specific things; key among them is the depressing tax system. This is one thing we would like the government to seriously start addressing when considering the plight of the worker. The number of taxes that citizens are being made to pay in our labour force today defeats the very essence of employment creation. With this Insurance Bill, the government has now burdened the ‘lucky’ few who are employed with the responsibility of looking after the millions Zambians who are not in formal employment. Truth is, workers are choking and there is a very little difference between them and the unemployed.
A majority of the people who are in formal employment in our country have their little salaries heavily taxed to the extent that they cannot even qualify to get a house mortgage at the bank. In fact, realistically speaking, many people who get such peanuts hold on to their jobs just because through their positions, they are able to engage in some deals that can earn them an extra income. Without “ubomba mwibala, alya mwibala”, they wouldn’t sustain their families.
After we march today and assemble in front of our government leaders to address us, they will not address these punitive taxes that are impacting the labour force. Instead, they will be promising another 200, 000 jobs this year. They will be expressing how committed they are to the creation of decent work.
On the other hand, those who retire are condemned into poverty because the National Pensions Authority is investing workers’ money elsewhere and failing to pay retirees. Any day of the week when you visit the Pensions House, you will find winding queues of dependents and administrators chasing after retirement packages for their deceased parents who couldn’t live long enough to enjoy their hard earned pensions.
We have millions of employed citizens being forced by law to contribute to the Workers Compensation Fund; there are adverts all over radio and television prodding workers, including housemaids to register with the Compensation Fund, but only a tiny fraction of the labour force actually knows how to claim this money when they lose employment.
Just a couple of days ago, our Republican President was consenting to the Health Insurance Bill, another tax on the poor worker who now has to foot medical bills for those whom government has failed to create employment for.
Somehow, our national leaders don’t find these concerns necessary to address when honouring the workers. Their May Day speeches will be full of promises, pledges and excuses as to why the government is not employing.
But Zambians are hard working by nature. They know that their government doesn’t have the capacity to employ everyone and they have found various other means of sustaining their livelihoods. All they are asking for is a relief from the taxman. The PF promised lower taxes, that is why the workers voted in millions to put them in power, so it is evil for this government to celebrate Labour Day while pushing more taxes in the workers’ pockets.