The Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has warned that President Sata's decision to fire nurses that took part in a recent strike may soon plunge us in an industrial crisis that could paralyse the entire country :
"Let it be made clear that the labour movement is not weak. We have chosen the option of negotiation rather than industrial action but government should not take us for granted...Whoever advised President Sata to fire the nurses made a huge technical error which they will regret....It is highly immoral for Dr Kasonde to start attacking us in Parliament knowing fully that we cannot defend ourselves. If he thinks we are irrelevant, let him not push us. We will not be intimidated. The labour movement does not answer to anyone expect the worker"
It was always obvious that if you fire one worker, others will rightly feel they will be next next time they go on strike. More importantly as long as the fired workers are unionised the union must defend them. Otherwise the unions are not worth the membership.
In general the decision to fire them is tactically poor politically for three reasons. First, it has allowed the ZCTU to reclaim some of its "old magic". Since liberalisation the power of trade unions has been eroded with many of their leaders politically captured. This crisis is ready made for Mwaba to recast himself alongside old ZCTU firebrand leaders. And who knows where that may take him in the future!
Secondly, it has presented UPND a unique opportunity to draw further urban support. HH's decision to fight for the nurses and midwivespresents an opportunity to present himself as a champion of the worker. This was after all Mr Sata's tag not too long ago! PF does not appear to include women workers in its electoral strategy!
Finally, the opposition, trade unions and civil society are now increasingly finding common ground. The current health crisis is against the backdrop of increasing discontent against PF on the u-turn on the constitution, intra party fighting, rampant foreign borrowing, a free falling Kwacha, and allegations of corruption among its ministers.
Dialogue in this instance would have served PF better than rather the "strong man" tactics which are aimed at bullying these women. But I suppose when you are broke as a government it does call for desperate measures. No matter what happens government cannot actually increase the wages being demanded. It is facing a fiscal crisis.