ZAMBIA Congress of Trade Unions secretary general Cosmas Mukuka has urged the new dawn government not to take people for granted as it gets down to work.
And Mukuka says expectations from the government are high.
During a subregional workshop on youth organising and unionisation, Mukuka said Zambia recently held general elections which the UPND peacefully and democratically emerged winners meaning there was a new government in place.
“So expectations are very high, from the youths especially who turned up in numbers to vote. As you know Zambia among other problems we are facing is youth unemployment. At the same time even though we have youth unemployment we still have employment gaps where if you look at employable age of eight million people only about 15 per cent of such are in formal jobs. The rest of the jobs are predominantly informal which we need to address by formalising the informal sector for them to see how best we can participate in the national development. So this is a sad development where you see only these 15 per cent are paying tax,” he said. “These 15 per cent are the ones contributing to certain social protection like health insurance which is supposed to be a compulsory insurance which we have not gone further to tackle the informal sector to be participating in this.”
And Mukuka said the general elections were characterised by problems from all corners including the space and pace of trade union freedom and organising trade union associations.
“We also had problems and brutalities where we saw a lot of workers retired in national interest. A lot of workers were beaten where cadreism was the order of the day and no demonstration, not even a peaceful demonstration, was allowed. They could unleash the cadres. The government which was there on such demonstrations…so cadreism had a lot of space and this caused a lot of problems,” he said. “… even for the government that is in place do not to take people for granted because at a certain time when people feel enough is enough, they react and the reaction is simple… it’s through the ballot.”
Mukuka said expectations were that Zambian workers could now enjoy freedom of association, participation and freedom of making sure workers’ rights which were human rights could now be experienced and enjoyed.
Mukuka said the trade union movement in Africa recognises the need to modernise the meaning of trade union membership and was trying to seek ways of regenerating and revitalising themselves to remain relevant, influential and strong.
He said trade unions had a role to defend workplaces and community rights of workers and members of their families as well as contribute to the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law necessary in reversing the shrinking civil liberties.
“The recruitment of young members in trade union ranks is one of the most pressing issues after decades of declining union density due to changes in the structure of employment, employment relations, education and working arrangements,” Mukuka said. “There is a lot of potential for growth once we bring in as many of the young workers as possible. We need to attract their interests and give them a voice. Another way of revamping trade union membership is through formalising informal work. As you may be aware, informal workers are subjected to all sorts of negative conditions simply because they are not represented. We need to reverse this situation by offering our services to such workers.”
Mukuka said the trade union leadership was saddened by the growing number of persons facing exclusion whilst wealth was concentrated in the hands of very few people.
“This unfortunately is a recipe for instability, fragility and continuous race to the bottom. This is the reason we are demanding for a new social contract in which workers, job creation and the environment will be at the centre of a regional and inclusive agenda for recovery and resilience,” said Mukuka.
And the African regional organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC – Africa) deputy general secretary Joel Odojie said the movement was dying and membership was reducing.
Odojie urged the youths to utilise the digital world to overcome some of the challenges trade unions were facing.