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Heighten sensitisation on labour laws

LABOUR laws are an important aspect of industrial relations and harmony.
It is through labour laws that employers’ obligations to employees are clarified and codified.
Labour laws provide for protection of workers’ rights, improve worker safety, prevent child labour and increase workers’ bargaining power relative to their employers.
And as rightly recalled in 2006 by Marcello Malentacchi, General Secretary of the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF): “The fundamental principle of labour legislation is to guarantee the weaker party in the labour market protection and basic rights in order to be in a fair position when negotiating salary and working conditions.”
Labour legislation also guides employees on what their obligations are towards their employers. Knowledge and understanding of Labour laws is important if employees are to perform their obligations towards employers in a harmonious and rewarding way.
It is therefore not only shocking but worrying that 80 percent of the country’s workers are ignorant about the labour laws. This is according to a survey conducted by the Workers Education Association of Zambia (WEAZ)
WEAZ executive director Mike Chungu is worried, and justifiably so, that the high numbers of workers who are ignorant of labour laws end up being abused by their employers.
Certainly the high levels of ignorance among workers on the labour laws provide a breeding ground for injustices in the workplace.
Employees should understand that it is in their interest to study and understand labour laws because they are meant to protect them.
It is not a secret that there are many employers who would do anything to run away from fulfilling their obligations to employees.
To them, employees are just objects to be used for business gain. Beyond that they have no interest in them.
Such employers always thrive on the ignorance of employees to deprive them of their entitlements.
When these employers get an idea that their employees do not know their entitlements, they take advantage and deprive them of such.
For instance, employers would use the ignorance of workers to pay them slave wages even below the recommended minimum wage.
In some cases employers deny employees their rights to conditions of service such as paid leave, sick leave, mother’s day and other such legal benefits.
Some workers are made to work more days and longer hours without compensation of any kind.
Those who dare to challenge employers are threatened with dismissal.
Due to ignorance and failure to understand that they stand on firm legal ground, most employees suffer injustices at the hands of employers in silence because they fear to lose jobs.
The high levels of ignorance on labour laws by workers certainly calls for heightened sensitisation by various stakeholders.
The Ministry of Labour should work with workers’ unions and employers to sensitise workers on the labour laws in the country.
For instance, all Zambian workers need to understand the newly enacted Employment Code Act of 2019 to be able to benefit from its provisions.
If it is all up to some employers, they wouldn’t mind keeping their workers in the dark so that they can continue abusing them.
This is why employees themselves need to take interest in understanding and updating themselves on labour laws as these keep changing with time.
It should also be acknowledged that there are also good employers out there who abide by the labour laws.
For instance, there are employers who take it upon themselves to educate their employees on labour laws. For some, it is embedded in their recruitment policies to induct new employees on company policies as well as labour laws. These deserve to be commended and must be emulated.
It must however be noted that there are also many employers who are ignorant about labour laws as reflected through reported cases on workers’ rights violations.
While for some it may be deliberate, other employers abrogate the labour laws out of ignorance. Unfortunately for them, ignorance is no defence for breaking the law.
Just like workers, employers will do well to familiarise themselves with laws that govern industrial relations to avoid violating them.
Labour legislation may seem like a bureaucratic hassle for employers, but these laws help keep employees safe, healthy and productive, which is good for business.