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Union wins after four-day strike at Dangote cement plant in Zambia

10 February, 2022Over 500 workers at the Dangote Industries Zambia Limited cement plant in Masaiti, outside Ndola, went on a wildcat strike 25-28 January to demand better wages and working conditions.

About 1,300 workers are employed at the plant mainly through subcontractors, with Dangote only employing 178 workers directly. Most of the direct employees are part of the management.

Workers downed tools after failed negotiations between Silondwa Engineering and the Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ). Workers rejected the 15 per cent wage increase offered by the employer during the negotiations, and instead demanded minimum monthly wage increase from K1000 (US$55) to K2500 (US$136).

According to the final settlement reached between the union and the employer, workers’ wages were increased by K1000 across the board. MUZ, affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, has 445 members at the plant and signed a recognition agreement with the employer.

For some years, MUZ has campaigned for the workers to be directly employed by Dangote instead of employment through a third party. Although the workers at the plant work for Dangote, their legal direct employer is the subcontractor, Silondwa Engineering, which has a contract to “supply labour services.” The contract is limited to three years, meaning that workers contracts are short-term and provide no job security.

One of the earlier contracts between Dangote and Silondwa Engineering contained blatantly anti-union clauses stating that “the contractor shall ensure that its employees are not involved in union activities and strikes that leads to stopping of work.” MUZ says that Silondwa Engineering’s tried to entice workers to join a sweetheart union liked by management, but workers responded with stiff resistance.

Additionally, during a site visit by the union and the ministry of labour to resolve the strike, the ablution facilities at the cement plant were found to be filthy with the plumbing in a state of disrepair while the toilets were not flushing. This serious health hazard faced by the workers prompted the ministry to order that the facilities be closed immediately and for the management to fix the facilities to conform with the national occupational health and safety standards.

Joseph Chewe, MUZ president says the union is fighting against the outsourcing of labour:

"There is need for the government to quickly address the issue of outsourcing especially in the cement producing companies and to ensure that workers are employed directly by the principal companies.”

MUZ says outsourcing is detrimental to workers welfare as it creates precarious working conditions such as temporary contracts and low wages.

“We congratulate MUZ on their victory. We expect pan African companies like Dangote to provide living wages and decent working conditions. However, we are appalled, and our expectations are dampened, by the precarious working conditions and poor working conditions at the Masaiti cement plant.

"We call upon Dangote to provide decent working conditions by creating permanent jobs in Zambia,”

says Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa.