Dear country men and women, every year, the 1st of May is commemorated, as a day in our working lives, when we celebrate the benefits of our labour. It is an occasion when leaders take a deep reflection on the decisions they make in ensuring commensurate compensation for the efforts the general workforce makes in attaining output in various sectors of the economy.
For a long time now, we have heard successive Governments talk about quantity of jobs and NOT the quality of those jobs. We have heard from the Government, on numerous occasions, that so many new jobs have been created, yet most of these jobs do not offer decent work. Quality employment is about security of tenure and prospects for career development; it is about working conditions, hours of work, safety and health, fair wages and returns to labour, opportunities to develop skills, balancing work and life, gender equity and equality, job satisfaction and recognition, and social protection. It is also about freedom of association and having a voice in the workplace, as well as society. Finally, it is about securing human dignity and eliminating discrimination.
The ILO report on Global State of Employment asserts that more than 65% of Zambians, despite being in full time formal employment, are still considered employed poor. Ladies and gentlemen, an employed poor person is a person who earns less than USD1.25 or ZMW7.00 a day. With this kind of statistic, it is imperative for us to critically review the kind of employment our Government claims to be creating. You may ask, ‘Why is this important?’ The answer is quite simple; the working class makes up the middle class. The middle class are the majority consumers; consumers drive the production sector when they buy goods and services. For as long as we do not build the numbers of the middle class, by looking at quality of employment, we are fighting a losing battle. This, my fellow citizens, is amongst the major reasons the current Government has failed.
Our promise to the Zambian Worker, on this day, is that under the UPND Government, our priority will be to create quality and equitable employment. Whoever signs up for a job must get satisfaction and a living wage. This is the reason why our first line of attack will be to address the cost of living through economic reforms, improved management, fiscal discipline and prudence. We shall adequately and effectively invest in Education to equip the workforce with the right skills for the job market. We shall further invest in our health care system to ensure that we have a healthy workforce. When we form Government, we shall immediately go for a decent living wage in place of a minimum wage. A minimum wage is not a living wage and this is the reason we still have workers who are very poor.
Without UPND, this economy will continue to slide into the doldrums, as the PF government has proved beyond reasonable doubt, over and over again, that they are clueless when it comes to economic management or anything to do with fiscal discipline. If we do not address the challenges that the workers are facing, these challenges will affect the worker’s productivity, and productivity is the single most important variable to being competitive.
Once in power, the UPND will also address the modern day slavery which has manifested itself in many ways, including low wages, under employment, servitude and a basic denial of human rights being abated by a corrupt and careless PF government. A PF Government that has failed to negotiate proper wages and decent employment with employers. This is compounded by the fact that employers cannot pay high wages when the fiscal and monetary policies are highly volatile and unpredictable. Today, an employer gets a credit line at 9% policy rate, the very next day, this policy rate is adjusted to 12%. How do employers plan like this? One day there is SI33 and 55, the very next day they are reversed or replaced by SI89 and reversed by the President.
It is impossible to have a sustainable wage and decent pay when the Government is the leader in illegally firing its own workers, like they did with the nurses and many other cases before the courts of law. We can all attest to this.
Countrymen and women, we, therefore, have an urgent need to take deliberate measures to restore the middle class, who form the majority of the working class. A UPND government’s major aim is to affirm that this happens by ensuring that our workers are rewarded with an honest salary for an honest day’s work. My responsibility will be to ensure that the worker gets what is due to him or her for the hard work, responsibility and sacrifice they make, regardless of sex, tribe, party affiliation or state of physical being. This means that we shall fight to eliminate social exclusion in all areas of our lives, like the work place, and guarantee that we shall establish a path of social cohesion where all the human resource that we have will be used as a an asset in nation building and having a strong economy, unlike now where even the peace and unity that we have all enjoyed since independence is under serious threat. This is to ensure that we all get the products and services that make our lives meaningful and comfortable, as well as build a strong nation and economy for ourselves and our children.
There is need to protect workers with a decent social security scheme, as well as investment instruments that will look after them when they are no longer in formal employment. Our desire is for people to be able to retire comfortably whereby they can own houses and, after so many years of labour, be able to enjoy such rewards with real benefits. Hence we shall advocate for favourable interest rates and affordable mortgages to make the workers feel compelled to build or buy houses. We are also alive to the fact that there are more people in the informal sector than the formal one hence we shall work hard to ensure that they are given their rightful place in the economy and that their contributions to GDP and the overall growth of our economy are acknowledged, formalised and captured. This will also help broaden the tax base and reduce the tax burden of those that are in formal employment.
Lastly, I wish to agree with UPND Chairman for Labour, Percy Chanda, on his call last Sunday to all workers to boycott this year’s Labour Day celebrations. There is nothing to celebrate on this Labour Day for workers in Zambia. I reiterate that, let the workers stay at home and spend time with their families instead of going to march in front of politicians that do not care about their plight, when the politicians are receiving free fuel and other allowances at our expense. And we all know that these politicians will not protect them from any violence that may erupt after being instigated by their militias or men in uniform.
A great day to you and continue to work hard for mother Zambia. I thank you all!!!