Victory for Zambia workers
Lusaka – The Zambian court has ruled in favour of the state, after months of wrangling over a government proposal to revise minimum wages for workers in the private sector.
Earlier this year, Labour and Social Security Minister Fackson Shamenda issued a statutory instrument revising minimum wages.
The revision was part of the ruling Patriotic Party’s pre-election promises of “putting more money in people’s pockets”.
The court ruling, seen by The Southern Times, states that Minister Shamenda’s earlier decision to revise minimum wages for domestic, shop and general workers was within the law.
After Minister Shamenda’s decision to raise the minimum wages to an average US$100 per month, Zambia’s Federation of Employers (ZFE) dragged the government to court seeking redress on the matter.
However, the High Court argued that the Minister of Labour acted in accordance with the labour laws of the land in passing Statutory Instruments 46 and 47 of 2012.
The ZFE has welcomed the High Court ruling, with its president, Alfred Masupha, saying the employers’ umbrella body was satisfied with the court’s decision as it also clarified some of the contentious issues it sought redress and interpretation.
“The federation has received the judgment of the Court with immense relief because the Court has ably and correctly cleared the air over an issue that had chronically boggled the minds of employers in the country,’’ Masupha said.
The ZFE was also relieved by the court’s ruling that the Labour Minister attend to the employers’ demand for a review of Section 3 (2) of the Minimum Wage and Conditions of Service Act.
“The joy of the federation is driven even higher by the court’s emphatic directive to the Minister of Labour to attend to the Appeal of the employers forthwith, ’’ he said.
ZFE, together with its membership, would continue to embrace the statutory instruments, including all labour laws outlined by the Ministry of Labour, Masupha added.
According to Justice Mubanga Kondolo’s ruling, the Minister did not need to consult ZFE before coming up with Statutory Instruments 46 and 47 of the Industrial and Labour Relations Act.
ZFE had sought judicial review over government’s decision to increase monthly salaries of domestic, general and shop workers without consulting the employers’ body.
The statutory instruments, signed in July this year, imply that domestic workers’ wages increase from K250 000 to K522 400 (US$45-US$100), including transport allowance.
Shop workers’ revised minimum wage is pegged at K1 132 400 (US$220) with transport, lunch and housing allowances inclusive, while the minimum wage of the highest grade in this category was pegged at K2 372 519 (about US$215).
In the general workers’ category, the minimum wage was pegged at K1 132 400 (US$220) while that of category five was pegged at K2 101 039 (US$405).
Under the revised order, the lowest worker would be getting K1 132 400 (US$220).
In October 2010, more than 13 workers at Collum coal mine in southern Zambia were shot and wounded by their employers for demanding better wages.
The workers were subjected, for a long time, to a paltry US$40 per month, inclusive of all related transport, accommodation and medical allowances.
This incensed the workers, who demanded pay revision, and this in turn riled their Chinese employers, resulting in the employers shooting pellets at the workers and wounding 13.
After the governments of China and Zambia intervened following a public outcry including London-based human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, the affected workers were paid between US$4 000 to US$9 000 each in compensation for the injuries sustained.
Abuse of labour and human rights in Zambia has remained relatively unresolved, especially with the Chinese-run companies determining their own wages, in contrast to the country’s living wage which was initially pegged at US$76 per month.
As an opposition leader, President Michael Sata was a fierce critic of Chinese investors over their gross disregard of labour laws and human rights.
During his election campaign, President Sata promised to resolve the wage imbalances in various work places, especially in Chinese-run companies.
His pre-election campaign, for the September 2011 election that brought him into power, was coined on the basis of “providing more money in people’s pockets”, especially those in formal employment.
The President also pledged to revise the overburdened tax base, which erodes the ordinary worker, including those self-employed.