[By Ernest Chanda and Oliver Chisenga]
GOVERNMENT has approved University of Zambia management’s application to terminate the recognition agreement between it and University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU).
But UNZALARU has described the move as intimidation.
On January 6 this year, UNZALARU secretary general Dr Kelvin Mambwe said only idiots and those enjoying with the PF government can vote for them if elections were called today and asked union members affected by delayed salaries to ‘hold the bull by it’s b…s until it feels what they were feeling with the delayed salaries.
The statement annoyed University of Zambia (UNZA) management who immediately applied to the Ministry of Labour to have the recognition agreement between the two parties terminated.
According to a letter from the Ministry of Labour dated February 4, 2020 and signed by acting Labour Commissioner Mukamasole Kasanda, UNZALARU was adjudged to have violated the law.
“Having considered the relationship between management and the union over the past three years as well as deliberations of the hearing meeting that took place on 22nd January 2020, the Ministry concluded beyond reasonable doubt that indeed the union did violate section 6 of the Industrial and Labour Act chapter 269 of the Law[s] of Zambia as well as breached article 18 of the Recognition Agreement between UNZA Management and the Union, ‘’ Kasanda stated in part.
“In view of the above, the Ministry wishes to inform you that the application to terminate the Recognition Agreement has been approved in accordance with section 65A (3) (a) of the Industrial and Labour Relations Act, Chapter 269 as amended by Act No. 8 of 2008 of the Laws of Zambia.”
The letter was also copied to the Minister of Labour, Minister of Higher Education, Ministry of Labour and Social Security permanent secretary, and Higher Education permanent secretary.
She stated that UNZA management were aggrieved by the statement issued by UNZALARU.
Kasanda stated that during the hearing, it was brought to the ministry’s attention that the two parties were at loggerheads the last three years.
She stated that UNZA management raised two issues that qualified for the withdrawal of the recognition agreement.
“In the current submission, Management advanced two issues which they have argued that they qualify to be adequate for terminating the Recognition Agreement between UNZA Management and UNZALARU,” stated Kasanda.
“The two being: a) Threats as to the return of students on campus; and b) Unbridled insults on Management. Having heard submissions from Management and your responses to the same, and considering the basis on which the Labour Commissioner gave the last warning to the Union in November 2018, the Ministry has come to a conclusion that in both instances the Union did contravene the provisions of the Act and the Recognition Agreement….”
But UNZALARU president Evans Lampi said the decision was predetermined even before the hearing.
Asked if it also amounted to intimidation, Dr Lampi responded in the affirmative.
“Yes, of course, it is intimidation and it’s political. We knew that from the very beginning this whole process has been driven by higher forces in the government,” he said in an interview.
“The fact of the matter is that regardless of the hearing that we had regarding the same issue, decisions were made before we were heard. And, as far as we are concerned, we cannot have a situation in which the prosecutor who is government, was the judge; it was the government. So, they’re the same people. The whole thing is flawed from the very beginning and it doesn’t solve a single thing.”
Dr Lampi wondered what problems management would solve if they stopped recognising UNZALARU.
“As we are speaking now, people have not been paid their salaries. If you get rid of UNZALARU, you haven’t solved a single thing. The university is still not being funded, and it will actually be worse if we don’t have a union because what will happen is now who will you talk to if there’s no recognition?” he asked.
“If, for instance, lecturers were to do something, who will you talk to? There’s no one. That’s what we are saying. So as far as UNZALARU is concerned, since we haven’t received anything from management, we just got a CC; UNZALARU is still in existence. This talk that government has abolished UNZALARU is not true; that’s our position.”
Dr Lampi explained that UNZALARU was still in existence until they received communication from UNZA management.
He said it was common knowledge that government has never liked unions that have spoken for their members.
“Well, we know that this government is totally against unions; they’re not for workers. This is not the first union which has faced this type of stuff. At TAZARA union they were given a notice to be abolished, [Copperbelt University] CBU academic union were facing the same thing,” he said.
“The fact of the matter is that the government doesn’t want any opposition in the country with regard to workers’ rights. So, their job is just basically ‘keep them quiet so that we can run the country without any type of responsibility to what they owe workers’. This is why you’ve got a situation where retirees are sleeping in the rain. You have seen those retirees? So, that’s the situation.”
Dr Lampi said the letter from Labour Ministry does not remove the recognition agreement between UNZALARU and UNZA management.
“The letter doesn’t actually remove the recognition of UNZALARU as a union. What the letter is basically saying is that the recognition between management and UNZALARU has been given to management. They have been given a go ahead to terminate the recognition,” stated Dr Lampi.
“So, it doesn’t mean that UNZALARU does not exist. UNZALARU is very much in existence, first of all. The second thing is that we have not received any letter from management who the recognition agreement is with, that the recognition has been terminated. Having said that, the UNZALARU at this moment is seeking legal advice on the way to move on this particular issue. And things will follow in the next week (this week).”