- The first nationwide general strike in Zambia is set to take place today, despite government calls to "crush" the protest. Trade unions protest civil service wage freezes and rising taxes that were approved by the Lusaka government to meet IMF budget demands.
The Zambian labour movement is heading a campaign against the government-imposed wage freeze and increases in Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) tax. The country's two labour federations, the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the Federation of Free Trade Unions of Zambia (FFTUZ), are determined to ignore the government ban on protests scheduled for today.
On the contrary. The ZCTU and FFTUZ have called for a national strike today, 18 February, and a demonstration has been planned in Lusaka to Parliament building, where the workers would register their displeasure with the new government regulations affecting workers.
The government of Zambia has imposed a wage freeze on public service workers to enable the country reach the budget marks defined by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and at the same time increased PAYE tax in this year's budget from 30 percent to 40 percent. The IMF has obliged the Lusaka government to keep the wage bill within 8.1 percent of GDP and last year, the Fund froze lending to Zambia after a higher budgetary deficit than anticipated.
This is the second time the government has declared a wage freeze. But trade unions and civil society organisations have argued that, instead of overtaxing workers, government should cut down on its spending habits to avoid budget overruns and improve on issues of good governance to reach the IMF's demands. Unions also point out that wage freezes were made illegal in 1998.
Zambian authorities have branded the strike illegal and said police are ordered to "crush" it. Police further refused to grant a permission to organise the planned Lusaka protest marches. ZCTU President Leonard Hikaumba however said on state radio that unions would go ahead with the protest march with or without approval.
The strike organisers have been given support by international trade unionist. Africa President Napoleon Kpoh of Union Network International (UNI-Africa) in a statement yesterday said that 15 million UNI members globally were rallying behind the Zambian labour movement in its strike and protest action.
- I am sad that at this point in time when the world is calling for partnership in national development the government of the Republic Zambia should think they can go it alone without the involvement of workers who create wealth, Mr Kpoh said in response to the government ban.
He added that the Lusaka government should create an environment where fear was not part of an equation to socio-economic and political development and urged the Zambian police "to behave like citizens of Zambia and not an army fighting another enemy." Mr Kpoh further said the Zambian government should know that the pace of development would be very slow for the country if the government does not respect workers and fails to talk to trade unions.
The UNI-Africa President also used the occasion to criticise the IMF and World Bank policies towards privatisation in Africa. Although these two organisations always were saying privatisation in Africa has been a success story, there were "no positive results to point at," Mr Kpoh held.
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