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Demands to deregister UNZALARU meant to silence critical unions

[By Tuesday Bwalya]

IT is shocking how quickly the PF party and government have called for the blood of the University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU) just because the Secretary General (SG) Dr Kelvin Mambwe wondered which normal or sensible person could vote for the ruling party in an election.

What did the government and party expect from a leader whose members always struggle to get paid their salaries and that their gratuities and retirement benefits for over 10 years now have not been paid? Did the PF and government expecte UNZALAURU to shower them with praises when they have neglected UNZA and its workers?

In Bemba we say “Ulelila tabamuceba ku kanwa”, literally meaning that you should not mind what a person who I’d mourning says because he/she may say bad things because of what has happened. Dr Mambwe and his fellow lecturers were mourning the delayed salaries, gratuities and pension benefits which the government and UNZA management are responsible for.

I expected the PF-led government to take keen interest in what SG Mambwe said and call for a meeting with lecturers than demanding the cancellation of UNZALARU’s certificate of registration. I am also disappointed with the current Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour for not advising his paymasters that Dr Mambwe and UNZALARU have had their rights infringed upon by UNZA management and government for too long now.

For instance, the employment Act of 2019 has been abrogated by government and UNZA management as regards the payment of salaries. According to this Act, the wages of an employee shall fall due and be paid at regular intervals not being later than the fifth day following the date on which they fall due under subsection. This implies that the last day for every employee to get his/her salary is the 5th of the next month. Contrary to this Act, UNZALARU members have been getting their salaries after 20th of the next month after fighting both government and UNZA management.

Why are the government and PF party demanding the cancellation of UNZALARU’s certificate? Is this what the Republican President and PF leader Mr Edgar Lungu refers to when he says, “Umwaice balamubala nokumuma bamuma”? Meaning that you can deliberately pick a quarrel with a child and beat her/him afterwards. Indeed, the government started UNZALARU by not fulfilling its obligation to its members and now wants to beat up UNZALARU by cancelling its certificate.

I have taken time to read the labour and industrial relations Act which is said to have been abrogated by UNZALARU. I have looked at section 3 of the said Act and I do not see any article contravened by UNZALARU. The same Act which the PF and its technocrats have cited does not say a union can have its certificate revoked for commenting on political issues.

Unionism is all about defending the interests of union members and this brings unions into conflict with politicians and governments. Unions have to stand up to politicians because they make policies, laws and decisions which effect the workers. The SG of UNZALARU did not insult any Zambian, but simply said that the PF government had failed to run the economy and if we had an election only two types of people can vote for PF: those who were eating from the PF plate and those who are mentally challenged.

The PF party and government do not like any organisation and person with an independent mind. They also do not want to be reminded of their failures and be warned that no sensible Zambian would vote for them. Reminding our government’s failure to manage our affairs cannot be the basis for demanding cancellation of the union’s certificate. This is a ploy by the PF government and party to silence critical unions like UNZALARU. It wants moribund unions to exist in Zambia.

The PF government wants all the union leaders to behave like the leadership of ZCTU who have been switched off. By the way, I expected ZCTU to stand up and defend UNZALARU because what UNZALARU was doing by standing up to PF government should have been done by ZCTU.

Many people have provided solidarity with UNZALARU. I am quick to mention FDD spokesperson Mr Yotam Mtayachalo and Dr Julius Kapambwe who have ably explained what the SG for UNZALARU meant. They all equally expressed shock at how the government has concentrated on peripheral issues instead of addressing the real issues raised by UNZALARU and its SG.

Like all these Zambians have said, UNZALARU and its SG have not done anything that warrants deregistration. The only crime committed is that of being factual and putting things the way they are.

As I conclude, I wish to call upon other unions in the country and ZCTU in particular to stand up and defend UNZALARU. An attack on UNZALARU is an attack on all trade unions in the country. I wish also to call upon the Labour Commissioner to withdraw threats to UNZALARU because there is no insult in what SG for UNZALARU said. Dr Mambwe’s words simply represent a voice of an aggrieved person who should be listened to, and not to be punished.

The author is a lecturer at the University of Zambia, department of Library and Information Science.

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