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Zambia Tells Striking Mine Workers Violence Will Not be Tolerated

In Zambia, more than 500 employees of a Chinese-owned copper smelter have been fired after they destroyed company property during a strike to demand better pay and working conditions. The rioting injured a Chinese manager and damaged company property. The management of the Chambishi Copper Smelter and union officials said the workers have been given three days to appeal their firing.

Mike Mulongoti is Zambia’s minister of information. He told VOA that Zambian laws do not condone violent protests.

“The government encourages the employer and the employees and their representatives to resolve whatever differences they have by sitting around the table. However, when there is failure government is available to invite them to help mediate. Of course they free to go to a court of law so that the court will interpret whatever differences. However the violence by the employees at which property was damaged cannot be tolerated because we believe in the rule of law. The decision by the employer to terminate the services of those who participated in the violence cannot be condemned outright. It will be looked at in the context of the gravity of the matter,” he said.

The miners went on strike to demand better working conditions and better pay. Mulongoti said the government has been encouraging the management and union to work out their differences.

“The policy of the government is that the determination of salaries between people who entered into a voluntary contract has been left between the parties. However, the government set in place a monthly wage policy. The management and the representatives of the workers had agreed how to mitigate that position. Before they arrive at a conclusion, this when this strike off,” Mulongoti said.

He denied the government was siding with the company against the workers.

“The issue is not going strike. If you destroyed property or you assault people, I don’t think that must be condone by government. All that government is saying is that when you’ve got differences you must resolve them in a civilized way by sitting around the table and looking at the problem. When you become rioters it becomes a criminal offense. So the decision to dismiss the workers cannot be condemned because our rules are very clear, fighting on duty, theft and all that are looked upon very seriously,” Mulongoti said.