The labour movement in Zambia is close to becoming totally irrelevant.
Its performance over the nurses strike and their subsequent mass dismissal has been dismal and at worst disgraceful. Neither the employer nor the employees – their members had any respect for their views some of which were totally outrageous and therefore counterproductive, in the process losing the support of the very important constituency, the public.
It was one thing for nurses to demand parity or equitable remuneration in line with the ‘across the board increase’ awarded by government but it was another for them to take unilateral labour action ignoring pleas from the union.
This clearly showed high levels of indiscipline and a betrayal of the trust that should exist between the union and its members.
It is for this reason that the dismissals have met with very little sympathy from the public while on the other hand the labour movement seems to be championing the cause of reinstatement without addressing the underlying issue of miscommunication and most important of all disregard of industrial relation procedures.
As we have said before difference in interpreting complex wages and incomes procedures constitute part of the process and must be addressed within the process. It will be recalled that last year medics received almost a 100 percent salary increase, far and above all other public service workers. This was in recognition of their sacrifice and effort.
Obviously the increase last year impacted on the 200 percent given this year to all other members of the public service. Little wonder that some people ended up with 4 percent.
Instead of explaining this fact and demanding parity within the bargaining process the nurses were made to believe that the government was short changing them and sadly in the process facts were overtaken by emotion resulting in the current disarray.
We of course have no kind words for the government which should have taken it upon itself to ensure effective communication, addressing the pertinent issues of the buildup in salary scales.
That is why both the unions and the government were at fault in this regard. They should take responsibility for what has happened and must together find a solution that is acceptable to all. This may require biting the bullet by rubbishing some of the claims that are coming through such claims as K10, 000 monthly salaries with K4000 housing and K2500 for transport.
This is ridiculous and must not be entertained at any time. What government must entertain is the need for immediate realignment of salaries in line with academic and professional qualifications. It is certainly not fair for a trained nurse to receive the same salary as an orderly. This shows a lack of appreciation for professionalism and dedication that nurses are made to exercise through their rigorous performance and duty.
We would like to challenge the ZCTU to take the mantle of leadership seriously. This means that at time they may have to speak harshly with their own members to drive actualities home. The government does not have an endless pool of resources to remunerate individuals at their own bidding and in any event public service is not meant for personal aggrandisement which is the character of private business.
The unions must rise up to the occasion and need the challenge of leadership squarely.