Unveiling Mysteries Around Trade Unions in Zambia


By Aaron Chansa
Executive Director, National Action for Quality Education

In the past few years, workers in Zambia have been up in arms against their unions .The famous sentiment is that these organizations don’t represent interests of their members .There is also a very popular complaint that Unions in Zambia are not transparent, are not consultative and very dictatorial. Reading many comments on social media by Zambian employees, it left me with no option but to write this article as my innocent contribution to making workers, especially teachers, aware about certain things which have been hidden to them for decades.

According to the Industrial and Labour Relations Act, Chapter 269 of the laws of Zambia, Article 5(a) (II), every Zambian worker has a right to join a Union of choice by applying. Belonging to a Union is voluntary and never a forcing matter. It is therefore criminal, wrong at law and legally punishable for anyone to begin deductions from one’s salary without their consent.

Because Unions are formed by workers to advance common labour interests, Article 11(4) of the Industry Relations Act commands all registered Unions to conduct worker’s education and imparting skills to members in preparation for retirement. I highly doubt if this worker education is done by Unions in Zambia.

Without exception, all Unions  in Zambia should submit to members true accounts of money received and spent ,and the balances in hand, per year( Article 62( 1).I challenge anyone to convince me that  Unions in Zambia submit audited financial accounts to their members …it is unheard of .

If there is a very democratic piece of legislation in Zambia, it must be the Industrial Relations Act. In Article 22 (2), this law allows a member of a trade Union to resign from the organization, at any time, by giving 3 months’ notice in writing, to the Union concerned and the employer. This legally means that belonging to a Union is not compulsory but a matter of one’s choice. In Zambia, resigning from a Union is like becoming Republican President …almost impossible missions.

Another issue that is thorny in the Zambian labour movement is how unions use money they receive from members .It is taboo for Union members to know how much their organizations (unions) receive per month. The law provides for some hope because in Article 61(2) ,it is clear that a Union member or members can apply to the *Court* to stop a Union from being *secretive* with money or stopping it from using money on issues not in the interest of members .I hope Union members will jump on this revelation and do justice.

Interestingly, this law (Article 17(2)) is very instructive to the unions, that “all Unions shall supply a copy of their Current Constitutions to every member”. I have never come across a teacher, for example, who has been given a constitution of “his/her” Union .I honestly find this tragic in the 21st century. Why hide a constitution to members?

While Unions are legal entities and Important in any industrial and labour environment, it is safe for me to declare that our situation in Zambia needs healing. And for the healing to come forth, all union members in the country will have to get up ,search their labour  souls and be counted .What has been happening in the Zambian labour movement cannot continue beyond this point.

Disclaimer: This article does not represent NAQEZ but my personal opinions and what is contained in the Industrial and Labour Relations Act.

God bless you all.

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