Casual labour haunts Zambian economy

In Zambia today, it has become common practice for employers to hire employees on part-time and temporary conditions of employment. This phenomenon is caused by a number of factors, such as the prevalence of a high level of unemployment in the country’s economy, which has made desperate job seekers willing to accept part-time or temporary jobs. In addition to this, the meagre incomes earned by the vast majority of individuals who are permanently employed have prompted them to actively seek part-time or temporary jobs to supplement their inadequate earnings.  

Moreover, an attempt by employers to circumvent the costs associated with catering for employees’ housing, medical, vacation, terminal and other benefits normally accorded to permanent or full-time employees has contributed to an escalation in the casualization of labour in Zambia. The desperation among retired citizens to find a decent way of earning a living while they await the disbursement of their delayed retirement benefits has compounded the problem of casualization of labour in the country. As a result, a lot of Zambians are subjected to a high level of job insecurity, unstable incomes and lack of housing, medical and other employment-related benefits.

There are a number of ways the Zambian Government can redress the problem of rampant casualization of labour in the country. Firstly, there is a need to provide adequately for low-interest loans to small business prospectors through the Zambia Development Agency to lessen the current over-reliance by unemployed Zambians on employment in corporations. Secondly, the government needs to reduce the costs borne by business and non-business organisations in providing for fringe benefits to their full-time employees through free and adequate life-saving healthcare for all Zambians, greater investments by the government in low-cost housing schemes and making improvements in social security and unemployment benefits. Thirdly, it is important for the government to ensure that labour-related laws and regulations are not flouted by employers, and to enact legislation designed to make it illegal for employers to hire casual workers to fill permanent positions in their organizations. Fourthly, there is a need for parliament to enact legislation designed to make retirement benefits payable within 60 or so days (Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays inclusive) from a retiree’s last date of work. Benefits (or any portion thereof) not paid within this period should fetch 5% interest per month.

Moreover, the government needs to create more jobs through lower taxes and interest rates designed to induce investments, savings and consumption in order to make job seekers less vulnerable to employers of casual workers. The revenues that would be lost through lower income and value-added taxes would be captured through income taxes and valued added taxes to be paid by large numbers of new employees in a steadily expanding economy. There is a need to reverse the current emphasis on stabilising inflation at the expense of job creation and economic growth. A relatively high annual rate of inflation of around 10-15 per cent owing to reductions in income and value-added taxes and interest rates intended to stimulate the supply of goods and services and the demand for goods and services would be acceptable. Since aggregate wages and salaries are generally low and interest rates and taxes are high in Zambia, inflationary trends can be attributed largely to excessive government expenditure, high costs of production and inadequate aggregate supply.

To control inflation, therefore, a wage freeze, higher taxes, and high interest rates are not the appropriate instruments. As experience and common sense have taught us, such instruments can stifle economic growth and job creation. The appropriate instruments for lowering the aggregate price levels in Zambia are, and should be, the following:

l Trim the national government and strictly controlling government expenditure.

l Find viable ways and means of cutting the costs of energy, water, telecommunications and both asset protection and high insurance premiums resulting from the high incidence of burglaries, robberies, and vandalism in the country.

l Strive to induce investments in commodity production and research and development to create a more competitive and innovative economic system where business entities can provide needed goods and services at lower costs and prices.

Have we ever asked ourselves why industrialised countries have very low levels of inflation and yet they have extraordinarily high per capita incomes, very low interest rates, very low levels of unemployment, and no government-fostered wage or salary freezes?

How about the idea by some government leaders that casualization of Zambian workers would now be punishable by imprisonment? Well, I think this is intrinsically a bad idea because employers are just taking advantage of the masses of job seekers in the economy.

If the government pursues the measures I have prescribed above in addressing the casualization problem, employers will have no choice but to engage workers on permanent and pensionable terms of employment because there will be a smaller number of people willing to be hired on a short-term basis.

And attempts to “abolish” casualization are equally flawed because there are some jobs in organisational settings that are temporal or occasional in nature. To expect employers to hire workers on a permanent basis for such jobs would, therefore, be unrealistic. – Pambazuka News

l Henry Kyambalesa is a Zambian academician currently living in Denver, Colorado, USA.

April 2015
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