Review Minimum Wage in Zambia
By Sanday Chongo Kabange
Authorities in Zambia have heed intense pressure and gross criticism from the country’s labour force to urgently review and revise the minimum wage from K260, 000 (approx. US$50).
Though slight progress has been made towards stabilising the economy at the macro-economic level, the country’s social and economic indicators reveal that much work remains to be done if the poverty and unemployment levels are to be reduced.
Approximately 67% of Zambians live below the Poverty Datum Line (PDL) and 46% of these are classified as being extremely poor, according to the Central Statistical Office (CSO).
Undoubtedly, poverty in Zambia has been exacerbated by the persistently high unemployment levels and further compounded by the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
Although Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has been averaging about 4.5% annually, this growth has not translated into a commensurate increase in the number of jobs.
A CSO survey states that of the 6,184,000 people in the labour force, only about 700,000 are formally employed and the remainder of the workforce is either engaged in the informal economy or unemployed, in a population of 12 million.
Many of these in the informal sector are women, young people and people with disabilities. With the on-going job cuts because of the global economic crisis, it is likely that these figures will swell up by the end of the year.
It is for this reason that Zambians through their various trade unions and pressure groups are calling on government to consider revising the minimum wage in order to come to terms with today’s socio-economic status.
Mildred Tensae, a youthful female call centre operator at a named Lusaka based firm, laments that the minimum wage in its current form is “unreasonable” even for a family of one.
Tensae says there is urgent need to review the minimum wage so that the economic gains recorded by the country in recent years translate into improved living standards.
She notes that it is unjustified to have the minimum wage pegged at K260,000 when the rest of the world is adjusting and responding to the effects of the global economic downturn.
She says, “I am a single person and I fend for myself. I cannot even meet my daily requirements because the money I get is simply too little considering the current minimum wage. I can’t even imagine people with large families. I am not allowed to join a union here but I have been following efforts by the trade unionist to have the minimum wage increased”.
Tensae adds that it is because of such porous labour provisions that foreign foreign-based investors continue to exploit Zambian workers by paying them skimpy wages.
“You see, when an employer pays you something between 150 and 200 dollars they feel like they are over-paying you because they are twice above the current minimum wage. What you ought to understand is that the standard of living is changing every day,” notes Tensae.
But as if succumbing to public pressure, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has intimated that it will soon call for a tripartite consultative meeting where it will discuss and review the minimum wage.
Zambia’s Minister for Labour and Social Security, Austin Liato has indicated that “government will soon revise the minimum wage from K260, 000”.
He says it is not his ministry’s desire to retain the minimum wage at K260,000 but that efforts are being put in place to ensure that employee-friendly policies and legislation are enacted.
Liato did however, not give a concrete time frame as to when the process of reviewing the minimum wage will commence although he says “government is committed to the process of reviewing the minimum wage ”.
The Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the Federation of Free Trade Unions of Zambia (FFTUZ), the Zambia Federation of Employers (ZFE) and their affiliates with the support of the International Labour Organisations (ILO) have over the years been lobbying the Zambian government through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) to consider making adjustments to the country’s minimum wage.