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Zambia: Building strong unions to confront hostile employers

15 March, 2018IndustriALL affiliates in Zambia, representing 57,000 workers in the chemical, cement, ceramics, textiles, mining, engineering and other sectors, met on 13 – 14 March to discuss how unions can build power and retain their legacy as key social actors in the country.

The unions have a rich history of organizing workers which goes across decades. The National Union for Building Engineering and General Workers (NUBEGW) for instance, boasts of having leaders who later became Zambian presidents. These are Frederick Chiluba (1991-2002) and Michael Sata (2011-2014).

IndustriALL Global Union affiliates, NUBEGW, the National Union of Commercial and Industrial Workers Union (NUCIW) and the Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ), with support from trade union support organisation, Union to Union, met at a union building project meeting 13-14 March in Lusaka.

The meeting discussed how to confront bullying as some employers are becoming increasingly arrogant and even refusing to sign recognition agreements with unions. Building union capacity in collective bargaining and understanding of labour laws, strengthening health and safety at workplaces and involving women workers in union activities and leadership roles are some of the priorities identified. Recruiting and organizing are key to reversing declining union membership.

The unions also agreed to work together, build solidarity on common issues and organize joint actions to defend their rights.

Says Tendai Makanza, UB project coordinator for Sub Saharan Africa:

The union building project is an opportunity for unions to identify and solve the problems that they are facing including declining union influence that is worsened by an increasing hostile environment from businesses and the government.

Increasing copper prices might see mining companies hiring more workers and thus providing an opportunity for MUZ to recruit more workers in the sector. The big copper mining companies are Barrick Lumwana, FQM Kansanchi, Mopani and Konkola who mine 80 per cent with the remainder being mined by smaller companies. The government of Zambia has shareholding in the companies through the state company ZCCM-IH.

In cement manufacturing unions are fighting to be allowed to organize workers at the Dangote plant in Ndola. MUZ has gone to court after being denied access to workers at the company.