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Vulnerability and the employee: How to restore dignity to employment in Zambia?

Policy Brief - Fourth Quarter 2005

Chris Petrauskis

Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection

November 2005

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Widespread poverty in Zambia has bred a dangerous environment where workers are willing to tolerate severe abuse from employers in fear of losing what little ndalama they bring home at each month end. The unjust treatment of employees in Zambia is widespread in its prevalence and diverse in its appearance. There are domestic workers across the country earning just K50,000 per month for 12 to 18 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week. There is a mine in the Copperbelt with just 70 permanent, unionised employees and 1800 “casual workers” on short-term contracts with limited benefits.

There are children working long hours crushing stones just to help pay for food at home. There are employees regularly injured and killed in preventable tragedies that result from employer neglect. There are 71 former employees of the Ndola Precious Metals Plant who have yet to receive their terminal benefits since retrenchment in 2001.

Poverty wages, long hours, delayed salaries, unpaid terminal benefits, retrenchments, child labour, worker strikes, intimidation, etc. How can we restore dignity to employment in Zambia?

This JCTR Policy Brief is an exploration of the vulnerability of the employee in Zambia today, in terms of wages, conditions of service and social security. Through the story of one “casual employee” in Lusaka, a number of labour issues are brought to the table for discussion. Through examination of the Zambian Labour Laws, an explanation of how employees are left vulnerable becomes clear. And through application of the Church’s Social Teaching (CST) on work, a challenging alternative vision of employment in Zambia begins to emerge:

What about a free-market society in which prudent labour laws and internalised Christian values motivate actions that uplift rather than deny the dignity of the Zambian employee? A people-centred capitalism that promotes the common good of the people rather than a self-centred capitalism that destroys peace, social security and environment through creation of great disparity between rich and poor? A country in which all employers and employees work enthusiastically in cooperation to create a better Zambia for today and tomorrow?

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