Planned ZCTU march on Parliament is illegal – Edgar Lungu

President Sata during a rally to drum up support for PF parliamentary Candidate Lameck Magani in Chipata, Eastern Province on July 20,2013

MINISTER of Home Affairs Edgar Lungu has advised the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) leadership against proceeding with a planned march on Parliament, which he says is illegal.
As an alternative, Mr Lungu said the ZCTU leadership should consider further dialogue with Government to resolve any differences or issues that they have, instead of demonstrating.
“There is crystal clear evidence that the President Sata government has the ability to solve issues without breaking the law as demonstrated by constructive discussions that led to the minimum wage being adjusted upwards by over 100 percent,” Mr Lungu said.
The Home Affairs Minister, who is also in charge of the police, said: “Dialogue can get us out of any difference. Zambian public workers as at the end of last month became among the highest paid in the entire region taking home more money than before without having to demonstrate or march.”
Mr Lungu said his office is trying to establish who could have “erroneously” given ZCTU a permit to march on Parliament instead of having an ordinary meeting.
“I have spoken to the Inspector General of police [Stella Libongani] and she knows nothing about a march on Parliament so I don’t know where this despondency is coming from.”
Mr Lungu in his appeal for dialogue used a Bemba adage saying: Ukuboko bapota ukumine, meaning: “You can only twist an arm which is stiff.”
Mr Lungu advised the union not to put the proverbial cart before the horse and talk first before demonstrating because the government under President Sata has demonstrated that it can settle differences without spilling blood.
Meanwhile, a Cabinet minister has been linked to calls by the ZCTU for nationwide worker protests.
Some union officials have accused deputy secretary general Cosmas Mukuka of working with the said Cabinet minister, who is alleged to have pledged to facilitate Mr Mukuka’s appointment as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education.
But Mr Mukuka has dismissed the allegation as malicious.
Mr Mukuka said the reports are false, malicious and aimed at weakening the ZCTU and its affiliates’ fight against the announced salary increment freeze for public service workers.
“The decision for a countrywide protest was made by the congress and its affiliates and at no time did I receive any instructions from any person.
“These are communal matters. That is a lie and if it is meant to weaken the fight by targeting individuals, it will force us to get aggressive,” he said.
Mr Mukuka also threatened to sue the Daily Mail if it goes ahead to publish the story.
But another senior union official said: “We were surprised that ZCTU is calling for nationwide protests over the wage freeze. This is a matter Government and ourselves are discussing.”
He charged that the minister is also behind the issuance of a police permit for ZCTU to stage a protest march from Nakatindi Hall to Parliament, where a backbencher has been organised to receive the workers petition. The permit was displayed for affiliate unions to verify.
“A matter of protests should come from our members or from affiliate unions, but ZCTU called for an impromptu meeting in Lusaka and Copperbelt and just informed us of their decisions to protest and urged us to organise our members” he said.
He said that a fundamental decision to go on strike or countrywide protests requires approval from the formal structures of ZCTU.
“The issue has never come through for discussion in the ZCTU decision-making structures such as the executive board meeting, which consists of the board and general secretaries of affiliates done after demands from affiliates or extra-ordinary general council,” he said.
He stated that after the formal announcement of the nationwide protests, affiliate public sector union officials took ZCTU secretary general Roy Mwaba to task.
He said the union leader allegedly owned up and disclosed that the protests were a government project given to them by a senior Cabinet minister.
“We were shocked to learn that Government could risk the stability and health of the economy and threaten peace and public order and organise countrywide demonstrations against itself.
“It became clear that the demonstrations were a project by a certain set of ministers, working to embarrass another set of ministers due to the on-going Patriotic Front (PF) internal wrangles,” he said.
“As affiliate unions, we are enjoying cordial working relationship with Government and we refuse to be used as tools in these political games,” the union leader said.
It is alleged that a government minister urged the workers to organise mass scale protests against it, as Government was having difficulties with the International Monitoring Fund (IMF) and the World Bank over the national budget.
Mr Mwaba is alleged to have disclosed that even the issuance of the police permit and the media coverage by the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) was secured.
On Friday, October 25, the ZCTU secretary general was quoted by ZNBC news stating that the union had organised nationwide protests against government’s wage freeze as announced in the 2014 budget.
Today, Government is scheduled to meet the ZCTU and 10 public sector unions over the impending protests. The meeting is expected to be held at Government Complex at 14:30 hours.
Secretary to Cabinet Dr Roland Msiska has stated that Government is surprised by ZCTU plans to hold countrywide protests over the freeze on wages and employment, especially that the union adopted the 10-year integrated competitive remuneration strategy (ICRS) through its bargaining process with government.
He said the ICRS was approved by Cabinet and adopted by the unions.
He stated the attempts to hold public protests were, therefore, unjustified and premature.