THE review of the minimum wage in 2012 gave low salaried workers such as maids, garden boys and child-minders a 100 percent salary rise from K250 to K550.
Receptionists, shop attendants and qualified clerks became the highest paid under the minimum wage with their salaries going up to about K2,372, amidst resistance by some employers to adhere to the minimum wage.
In light of the harsh economic conditions in the country, Government is in the process of revising the minimum wage to help lowly paid workers in the informal sector to sustain themselves.
Over the last five years, Zambia’s economic situation has seen dramatic changes and the cost of living has gone up.
The monthly basic food basket (BNB) released by the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) for the last three months indicates that a family of five needs around K5, 000 to meet basic needs such as food, housing, electricity, etc.
A considerable number of people in the country fall under the low income category, therefore sustaining a family is a hard task for many.
“With the current high cost of living, it is hard to meet all the basic needs like transport fares, electricity and housing bills. Currently, the cost of electricity has gone up and life is becoming unbearable,” Martha Mwape, a Lusaka resident, said.
It’s in view of the hardships that the people are going through that Government wants the lowly laid to have more disposable income.
Minister of Labour and Social Security Joyce Simukoko, in a ministerial statement to Parliament recently, said consultations with the Tripartite Labour Council on the review of the minimum wage are under way and will soon be concluded.
This will pave way for the implementation of a new minimum wage that will hopefully help low income workers to meet their basic needs.
Mrs Simukoko noted that the consultative process has taken longer than expected, but she is hopeful that the process will be concluded by December this year.
“The recommended time to review the minimum wage is four years but the process has taken longer than it should have. However, we are almost concluding and by December this year, we will be able to announce the outcome of the discussions,” she said.
The minister expressed displeasure that most of the workers under the minimum wage bracket are not unionised and hence cannot engage their employers to convey their grievances.
She, however, stated that if aggrieved, such workers, in their own capacity, have the right to lodge complaints to her ministry.
“Workers that are not unionised find it difficult to communicate their challenges, but we advise that those that do not belong to any union (should) approach our ministry to report their queries when need arises in order for us to be able to help them,” Mrs Simukoko said.
The Minimum Wage Act cap 276 gives authority to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security authority to safeguard workers against indecent earnings and bad working conditions.
The law was enacted in 1982 but was later amended in 1997.
The Minimum Wage Act is meant to provide decent wages to workers who are vulnerable to exploitation but lack representation to air their grievances.
But Mrs Simukoko raised concern that most people in this category are ignorant of their labour rights.
She urged workers to take keen interest in labour laws so that they are well informed and capable of denouncing any form of exploitation.
“It is unfortunate that most people today are not aware of their labour rights and that is why there is a lot of exploitation, especially in this category,” she said.
Recently, the Ministry of Labour, in collaboration with other stakeholders commemorated the World Day for Decent Work during which stakeholders took time to sensitise the public about decent work.
Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Nkole Chishimba urged employers who can afford to pay more not to feel restricted by the minimum wage.
“We have employers in this country who can afford to pay their workers more but because the minimum wage states an actual amount, they continue to pay that amount despite making more profit,” Mr Chishimba said.
In this regard, Mr Chishimba feels introducing a living wage for workers in the country is better than the current scenario.
A living wage requires that workers are paid wages commensurate with the economic situation in the country so that they are able to meet basic needs.
The minimum wage, on the other hand, is the amount of money set by the Ministry of Labour in any country as payment for the lowest paid workers regardless of the economic conditions.
“With a living wage, people can be paid according to the economic situation of the country. This will give them the opportunity to at least have some relief even when the cost of living goes up,” Mr Chishimba notes.