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Government Says Zambia Workers Would Forfeit Pay for Strike

The Zambian Congress of Trade Unions has asked the government to withdraw its threat not to pay all public service workers who took part in the just-ended strike.

The Secretary to the Cabinet Joshua Kanganja reportedly directed permanent secretaries not to pay workers for the days they stayed away from work during the five-week long strike.

The workers went on strike to demand a wage increase and for the nurses, an increase in uniform, night duty and housing allowances. The strike ended last week after President Rupiah Banda promised to look into the workers’ grievances.

President of the Zambian Union of Nurses Organization Thom Yung'Ana said by threatening no pay for workers who took part in the strike, the government did not negotiate in good faith.

“On the issue of withholding the salary, we strongly feel that it may not be the appropriate action to take because once the salaries are withheld, it implies that nurses and all the para-medicals would be expected to be going for work without any money in their pockets,” he said.

Yung’ana said the workers need every penny to buy food for their families and pay for public transportation to and from work.

“As a result, we expect to see a not better work force in the health sector. Consequently, the ones who suffer would be the patients. And that’s make us worry,” he Yung’ana said.

In his directive, Secretary to the Cabinet Joshua Kanganja reportedly said public service employees, including those considered as essential chose to go on an illegal strike to air their grievances.

Yung’ana said while the union was not glorifying the strike action, it feels the reasons were justified.

“We are talking of a situation where our nurses get a very little amount towards housing and that amount cannot be used to meet what the landlords expect from them. So we see a number of nurses being either victimized or indeed evicted by their landlords,” he said.

The nurses agreed to end their five-week old strike after President Rupiah Band promised to look into their grievances.

Yung’ana would not say whether the nurses feel they have been betrayed by the government. But he said the nurses wanted solutions to their problems.

“It’s not the question whether the strike was legal or illegal, it’s not the question whether we are betrayed or not betrayed. But I think we must dwell more on finding solutions to the causes of the strike so that we don’t see this happening again,” Yung’ana said.

He said by agreeing to return to work, the nurses have shown their concern for ordinary Zambians who he said need the nurses’ care the most.

Yung’ana said it would be unfortunate if the Zambian government went ahead to withhold the workers’ pay for the days they were on strike. He said such action would be contrary to President Banda’s words of forgiveness for nurses.