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Zambia Workers Union Threatens Strike Action

Zambia President Michael Sata delivers a speech on May 17, 2013 during the commissioning of the construction of Palabana University in Chongwe, 60 kms east of Lusaka.

Zambia's main workers union is threatening to embark on an indefinite strike and hold a series of protests later this month if President Michael Sata’s government fails to lift an ongoing pay freeze for all public sector workers, according to Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Leonard Hikaumba.

ZCTU officials say group members will protest at the parliament building to send what they call a strong message to the lawmakers not to endorse the government’s 2015 budget until the wage freeze is lifted.

Last year, the government announced a two year wage and recruitment freeze from 2014-2015 after it presented its 2014 budget. Local media quoted Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda as saying that the administration’s decision was to ensure there were sufficient funds for basic social services and investments in public infrastructure.

The strike action, Hikaumba said, aims to pressure the administration in Lusaka to improve the living conditions of workers.

“The [ZCTU] has resolved to stage protests to try and pressurize government to lift the freeze on salary increment and improvement on condition of service for 2015,” said Hikaumba. “The unions in the public sector are being encouraged by the mother body to organize the membership to participate in the planned demonstrations.”

Supporters of the ruling party have criticized the workers union for threatening to go on strike while negotiations with the government aimed to resolve workers concerns are ongoing.

But, Hikaumba said the administration has so far refused to listen to the workers' demands.

“We made a submission to the budget that government should allocate some money for improving salaries and conditions of service. So, when government … instead maintained the wage freeze…then we should just go ahead and start this protest, because we have seen that there is [adamancy] on the part of the government,” said Hikaumba.

He also rejected allegations by some ruling party supporters that the strike is aimed at undermining the government and to make the president unpopular in the run up to the next general election.

“It has completely nothing to with the opposition political parties. This is purely an industrial issue, and it is purely a decision by the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions. We are not in any way trying to de-campaign the ruling party,” said Hikaumba.

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