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Cost of Living, public debt worry ZCTU

COVID-19 has exposed our weak health system, says Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

And ZCTU president Nkole Chishimba says the unions mother body is concerned about the tough economic times which Zambians are currently facing alongside the COVID-19.

Speaking during the 2021 pre-budget consultative workshop at Fringilla Lodge in Chisamba, Chishimba said even the efforts by the government to release relief packages were not reaching the intended people.

“We are concerned about the high and increasing cost of living. We are concerned about the depreciation of the kwacha against major international currencies. We are concerned about the dwindling international reserves. We are concerned about the high and increasing public debt and we are concerned about the low GDP growth prospects in the medium term,” he said.

“We attach great importance to this workshop because the national budget has implications on the lives of all of us. This workshop will serve as an information-sharing platform from which ZCTU will draw recommendations for eventual submission to the Ministry of Finance for consideration in the 2021 national budget.”

Chishimba said as representatives of workers, they were very concerned about the current economic challenges which have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are equally concerned that even some economic measures towards mitigating the impact of COVID-19 have not reached the majority of workers. For example, some measures such as the waiver of tax penalties, easing liquidity, and the medium-term refinancing facility of K10 billion had little impact on the workers, especially workers in the informal economy,” he said.

Chishimba said the continued weakening position of all economic fundamentals had adverse effects on the welfare of workers and the informal economy workers were the most affected.

“It is also true that the COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed our fragile health system. The current surge in the number of brought in dead cases recorded in the last few days simply tells us that the burden of taking care of the sick has shifted from health facilities to households. This is a reflection of an ever increasing cost to the workers who bear the burden of providing health care at home,” he said.

Chishimba, however, expressed optimism on the recovery of the economy.

“Despite all these economic challenges, however, we have the confidence and conviction that Zambia is well endowed with abundant natural resources to lift all of us out of the poverty trap. In this respect, there is a need to adopt policies and programmes that aim towards attaining social justice,” he said.

“We need a people centered development agenda towards attaining social justice and equality of treatment, acknowledging that poverty anywhere is a danger to peace and prosperity everywhere. In this light, we need a renewed commitment towards social justice focusing on a people centered development approach.”

Chishimba said there was need for more investment to social sectors to develop social protection floors and ensure sustainable and well-developed social protection systems and come up with balanced recommendations for consideration by the Ministry of Finance in next year’s budget.

Meanwhile, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) resident representative Fritz Kopsieker emphasised the need for participation in policy formulation.

“I’m not aware of any policy that does not affect workers whether formal or informal. Policy impacts on workers in one way or another. I’m very much in favour of organised labour pronouncing itself in the interest of their members on policy issues,” said Kopsieker who also cautioned the participants against dropping their guards against COVID-19.

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