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President Of Zambia faces tough choices ahead of August election

17 min read

I WANT to know if the President is not allowed to be on leave because even when I am sick, they want me to remain in office, President Edgar Lungu complained yesterday.

During Labour Day celebrations in Lusaka yesterday, President Lungu dialled the newly launched Ministry of Labour public toll-free number 7010 to complain about his conditions of service.

The Head of State told the female customer agent who answered the line that he had never been on leave since he was elected into office in January 2015, and that he was being forced to work even when he was sick.

“Good morning, this is President Lungu,” the Head of State said, as the customer agent from the Ministry of Labour on the other end responded, “good morning, how are you and how can I help you?”
President Lungu continued: “I am okay thank you. I want to find out why I am not allowed to go on leave since I was elected. I want to find out why you haven’t allowed me to go on leave. Is there no provision for leave for the President?” he asked, sending the audience at the Freedom Statue into laughter.

The customer agent said, “It is up to you sir, but I will get back to you.”

“You will get back to me? I have never been on leave but no one talks about my going on leave. Even when I am sick, they want me to remain in office. Can you find out why the President doesn’t get the benefit that other workers are entitled to and get back to me please. Thank you very much,” President Lungu said before handing the mobile phone to labour minister Fackson Shamenda.

President Lungu later said in his speech that his government had continued to focus on policies, strategies and programmes that would significantly contribute to realising employment creation and decent work.

He also said his government’s focus was to invest in labour-intensive sectors such as agriculture and tourism.

“Fellow workers, this day is for the mother in the home, a farmer in the field, a bus driver and conductor, the marketeer, the worker in the office and the miner underground, among others. As government, we salute all workers in Zambia. We honour your sacrifice and we applaud your contributions towards the development of this great nation,” President Lungu said.

“My government continues to focus on policies, strategies and programmes that will significantly contribute to realising employment creation, human development and broad-based pro-poor growth. It is for this reason that special attention has been placed on the promotion of increased investment in infrastructure such as roads, schools and health facilities countrywide.”

He said the PF government would continue to invest in agriculture and tourism to create wealth and employment.

President Lungu also said workers’ pensions must be paid promptly.

“The Constitution also provides for pensions to be paid regularly and promptly. Arising from the enactment of the Constitution, my government is in the process of finalising a consequential bill on social protection to ensure social security in Zambia,” said President Lungu,

And Shamenda said Zambians should not support opposition political parties because they did not have the interest of workers as indicated by their failure to attend the celebrations.

“So remember us when that time of reckoning comes,” said Shamenda.

But the Zambia Congress of Trade Union said the economic challenges that have affected workers and the majority of Zambians had caused frustrations and despair among citizens.

“Fellow workers, since Labour Day last year, workers in this country have faced serious challenges which have contributed to the economic difficulties we are currently facing,” ZCTU president Chishimba Nkole said.

“While we have put in our very best, we have not been sufficiently rewarded to cushion workers against the negative effects of the economic crisis. The difficult economic conditions affecting the majority of the people have led to frustrations and despair.”

He said the country was headed for more difficult times for workers.

“The issue of the rising cost of living needs to be urgently addressed by government because the country is headed for more difficult days for workers and other vulnerable people, if little is done to remedy the situation,” Nkole warned.

“We are particularly concerned by the high unemployment levels, which have deprived people, especially the youth, a decent living. Unemployment is an evil and it takes away the dignity of an individual. Fellow workers, it is painful, frustrating and humiliating for a parent to fail to provide for his or her family due to the high cost of living. It is even more agonising for young people to continuously be confronted by unemployment even after obtaining college certificates, diplomas and degrees.”

He called on the government to urgently find a permanent solution to the astronomical levels of unemployment.

“It is being felt by all classes of people, the rich, the poor and the working poor. This is how severe the problem has become. We are calling upon government to urgently find a permanent solution to the unemployment problem in order to address the current high poverty levels, hunger and social deprivation,” Nkole said.

He said the mining industry, which had retrenched thousands of workers, remains the lifeline of the economy and that the government needed to find ways of sustaining jobs even in the face of slumping metal prices on the world market.

And Nkole urged the workers to vote for a leader who had the welfare of workers at heart.

“Fellow workers, I want to remind you that 2016, being a year of general elections, calls for critical and focused analysis of the political landscape. This year’s election, I believe, has new features which we have never experienced before, such as the 50 per cent plus one and the running mate clause…,” said Nkole.

“We need to take time and fully understand the implications of our decisions on the election day. I urge you colleagues to identify friends of labour among the political players. I know that as workers, we are sometimes urged to stay away from politics but I must say workers are actually the greatest politicians. So elections and politics must not be left to politicians alone.”

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