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Zambia: New Minimum Wage Pits Employers Against Government

From the reaction of various stakeholders, ranging from the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)  to the Zambia Federation of Employers and ordinary citizens (through spoof letters stating new conditions of service for the domestic servants)  who, before the new policy came into effect, could afford to employ domestic help, the minimum wage effected on 4 July 2012, is arguably one of the most controversial policies of the 10 months old Patriotic Front (PF) government.

Labour Minister, Fackson Shamenda, a former president of the ZCTU, without prior notice in early July 2012, issued a Statutory Instrument stipulating the minimum wage payable to domestic servants, shop workers and other general workers, all at different levels.

A mock up of a locked pot to stop unauthorised people accessing it.

A mock up of a locked pot to stop unauthorised people accessing it. Picture courtesy of BEMBA vs NYANJA: MIPONTO SHA CIMBUYA Facebook page.

Reads the spoof letter in part:

Due to the current economic situation, since the government has insensibly decided to increase the minimum wage for domestic workers to K522, 000, all domestic rules and regulations have been revised as below and under no circumstances is any violation going to be accepted.
1. The kitchen and all pantries are declared restricted zones. Entry and/or passage shall require express permission from me upon submission of written request.
2. Breakfast and lunch is banned. This matter cannot be discussed. You are allowed to come with your own mealie meal, relish and charcoal, you are also welcome to use the brazier […]

Part of the Statutory Instruments states:

This issue has divided Zambian netizens on citizen media and social network sites, those for and those against it, in equal measure. Commenting on the Zambian Reports story, Employer writes:

I have 22 employees and just left my calculator.For our business to survive I need to reduce the workforce by half. Otherwise we are doomed!If we keep this workforce and pay them according to statutory no.45 to 47 we close shop definitely.I personally think a modality of identifying infant businesses and waver given should have taken into consideration.
Feasibility studies to would be investors will definitely be harmed.
Don’t get me wrong I am not saying workers do not deserve decent salaries but some businesses are just too small to sustain such type of salaries.

On a story on which the president of one of the union mother bodies, the Federation of Free Trade Unions of Zambia, Joyce Nonde, is urging employers to pay the minimum wage, tombolilo wrote:

Here is an idea. When you have alot of clothes to wash and dont have a washing machine, look for a day maid. Someone to wash you clothes and do your laundry. The same can be done when you need major cleaning of your homes. If you feel that you really need a maid, then pay and stop exploiting these poor people. Minimum wage is everywhere and in more developed countries, there is something called a salary benchmark (if we dont have salary benchmarks, then we should ask what the statistics office is doing) for people of different careers. If you as an individual feel your employer is exploiting you, then get a benchmark and explain. This is the law and the labour office is taking a positive move.

A counter argument from a reader calling himself The Chief, states:

Well said Mrs. Nonde but what about the many retirees and people selling salaula [second hand clothes] on our streets who employ other people to [s]ell on their behalf? What about the countless Nthembas [informal/corner shops] which employ many people and may only have capital of K3,000,000? This pronouncement needed broader consultation so that we should know which firms have the capacity to pay these new wages. Although most wages are low, but half or even quarter of a loaf is better than nothing

Answering a question in parliament, Vice President Dr Guy Scot said:

What we have done as Government is the right thing, if we hadn’t created the jobs, people would still be complaining and so we are doing the right thing and I want to assure you that there will be no job losses following the changes we have made to the minimum wage.

The PF, as an opposition party, promised more money in people’s pockets, jobs and a whole lot of political and economic changes within 90 days of assuming office

Shamenda, on Crossfire BlogTalk Radio, defended the introduction of the minimum wage saying that some people earned up to an equivalent of US$15,000 but found it hard to pay just US$100 to their domestic hands.

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