STATEMENT BY HIS EXCELLENCY DR EDGAR CHAGWA LUNGU PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF ZAMBIA ON THE EVE OF THE INTERNATIONAL LABOUR DAY WHICH FALLS ON FRIDAY 1ST MAY, 2020 – STATE HOUSE 30TH APRIL, 2020
Country men and women,
It is my honour and privilege to address the nation on the eve of International Labour Day scheduled for tomorrow 1st May, 2020.
This day is a very important day to the workers of this great nation.
Labour Day provides a good opportunity for employers to recognise and appreciate the remarkable efforts and contribution of workers to their business operations.
My government is fully aware that workers effectively contribute to the social and economic development of our country.
As we celebrate Labour Day, we should always remember that labour provides a service needed to transform raw materials into finished products and services.
This year, we commemorate Labour Day under the theme, “Reducing Developmental Inequalities through Sustainable Job Creation”.
The theme reflects Zambia’s aspiration and commitment to delivering development to the people through various interventions spelt out in the Vision 2030 and Seventh National Development Plan.
The theme also calls upon all stakeholders to ensure challenges of sustainable job creation by investing in agriculture, mining and other productive sectors as well as ensuring value addition in the manufacturing sector.
In addition, this will ensure that inequalities are fully addressed by working towards a society that thrives on fairness, social justice, human dignity, equality and non-discrimination.
Zambia, like many other African countries, has not been spared by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The impact of the pandemic on the economy has been very visible.
As of 25th March, 2020, the first quarter national growth rate reduced by 2 percent from the 3.2 percent projected growth in the 2020 budget presentation.
The most hit of the economic sectors have been tourism, mining, manufacturing, construction, wholesale and retail trade sectors.
The impact of Covid-19 on the labour and employment sector of the Zambian economy is very significant and serious indeed.
There is a general slowdown in businesses with most operating at below capacity or closed down altogether.
My government has received numerous requests from companies to reduce staff or exempting them from the provisions of the employment code act pertaining to redundancy requirements, payment of gratuity, forced leave and other relief.
Further, there has been a rise in a number of cases involving illegal termination of contract of employment, unauthorised sending of employees on forced leave, declaring of employees as redundant and non-payment of employees’ salaries compared to last year.
This is indeed unacceptable and is punishable by law.
In order to regulate the employment and labour market during the Covid-19 pandemic, government convened a meeting with its social partners namely, the Zambia Federation of Employers, and the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions.
The measures adopted by the tripartite included placement of employees on paid annual leave; placement of employees on forced leave in instances where an employer is unable to sustain employees on full pay, and this will be done in consultation with the ministry of Labour and Social Security.
In addition. The meeting resolved to avoid, as much as possible, resorting to undertaking redundancy exercises.
It was further agreed that should the pandemic prolong, government in consultation with the tripartite consultative Labour Council shall consider further mitigating action permissible at law if public health threat deteriorates or fails to abate within an agreed timeframe.
The mitigating action would include exemptions contained under section 2 of the Employment Code Act No. 3 of 2019.
However, companies applying for exemptions will be expected to submit certain documents for verifications and assessment.
The conditions under which this will be entertained will be subject to discussions by the tripartite consultative Labour Council which is expected to be convened in a few days’ time.
The meeting will be held under strict health guidelines and will be attended by 21 delegates, seven representatives each, from government, employers and workers.
It is indeed regrettable that the coronavirus or Covid-19 pandemic has robbed both the workers and employers the opportunity to celebrate this year’s Labour Day in the usual manner by way of public gatherings, where they turn up in huge numbers to celebrate their day.
Unfortunately, this is not possible.
This year due to restrictions on gatherings such as conferences, weddings, funerals, and festivals.
To this effect government announced the cancellation of Labour Day events at national, provincial and district levels.
This means that there will be no public gatherings to commemorate the 1st May 2020 Labour Day celebrations countrywide.
All outdoor preparations such as marching for the event will not be allowed.
However, this year’s Labour Day Award presentations should be undertaken at institutional or company level subject to complying with health regulations. This measure is necessary in order to recognise and award deserving employees.
Government will continue to act decisively to save jobs and enterprises and ensure business continuity, prevent lay-offs and protect vulnerable workers.
Citizens of this nation should have no doubt that the measures that the government is taking today are for the betterment of the country.
As I conclude, I wish to take this opportunity to pay special tribute to all front-line workers in the fight against coronavirus.
You are the true heroes of our time. It is clear that yours is not only a decent profession, it is also a calling. Zambia will forever remain indebted to you.
To the workers, I say solidarity forever. To the employers, I say solidarity forever.
May the Good Lord Almighty bless the nation, I thank you.