THE construction sector has for many years been loaded with controversies which include non-observance of safety and health regulations among Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
These pitfalls have sometimes led to sub-standard works and, in worse scenarios, stalled projects.
The resounding cry has been for the relevant authorities to strengthen laws so that, apart from promoting safe and healthy working environments, higher productivity could be encouraged.
Well, the good news is that there is now ‘A Guide to the Labour Law for MSMEs in Construction’, which has been launched by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
The purpose of the booklet is to promote labour law awareness among MSMEs in the construction sector.
To ensure that no-one struggles to understand the contents, the booklet is a simplified version of the Zambian labour laws arranged by topic.
This will enable users to access guidance on how to comply with labour law provisions that they may need.
It is expected that by complying with the legal and regulatory framework, MSMEs could foster good working conditions and, in turn, give rise to a more productive workforce.
This ultimately leads to enhanced competitiveness and productivity of the enterprise, and as a consequence improves the business.
In his foreword to the guide, Labour Minister Fackson Shamenda has acknowledged how globally, MSMEs have become engines for economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction.
In Zambia, the building and construction sector is one with high potential for the creation of employment through MSME activity.
The sector, which currently makes up 21.1 percent of the economy, has experienced rapid growth in recent years, and is expected to expand further due to public sector funded infrastructure development projects and strong demand in the residential housing and office retail market.
Mr Shamenda notes that as the construction sector continues being one of the main enablers of national economic growth, it is important that it equally contributes to the generation of decent jobs for Zambians in order to fully achieve its potential to deliver broad-based wealth.
He has urged a culture of the respect for labour laws by both employers and workers, and has cited an example of formalised employment relationships which could provide the clarity, predictability and security that construction workers need to commit themselves fully to the job.
Similarly, the creation of a safe working environment for workers helps to prevent the devastating effects of fatalities, injury and disease on the affected workers and their families.
The business and economy in an industry where industrial accidents are rife also get affected.
It is equally important to subscribe to social security schemes to mitigate the risk for workers and employers against the cost of injury, as well as assuring a minimum level of well-being.
The guide has been produced with support of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation through the Law-Growth Nexus II (LGN II) Project.
There was input from the LGN II Project sub-committee consisting of the Ministry of Labour, National Association of Medium- and Small-Scale Contractors, the Zambia Association of Women in Construction, the Association for Building and Civil Engineering Contractors, and the National Union for Building and Engineering General Workers.
Others are the National Pension Scheme Authority, Workers’ Compensation Fund
Control Board, and the Social Protection and Occupational Safety and Health components of the Zambia Green Jobs Programme.
Since it is said ignorance is not a defence, MSMEs should get this booklet which covers such issues as the minimum age for employment, different ways to formally hire a worker, status of trade unions and employers’ associations, and grounds on which a contract of employment could be terminated.
I acknowledge receipt of a letter from a reader from Chingola (whose name I will not disclose) who complained that for the past three years he has failed to find a job in the mining company operating in the area.
He wrote that he is a qualified metallurgist as well as an information technology specialist.
He highlighted the hardships he is facing in looking after his family, and further complained that Zambians are being sidelined by foreign investors.
Dear reader, I certainly sympathise with your situation, but I know that much has been said about giving Zambians with the right qualifications decent jobs.
The ministry of Labour has also made many strides in ensuring human resource and related jobs are only given to the local people.
I am confident that with the qualifications you have stated, you will soon be accommodated and be allowed to make use of your skills.
I also hope you have honed your skills to market yourself by way of a well-packaged curriculum vitae.
I received another letter from Mr Kennedy Lombe who wanted to know the steps to take when reporting labour-related problems at workplaces.
The following steps are a guide to follow in resolving labour problems:
1. You should be clear about the facts. Make sure that what you think has happened or is happening is not based on an assumption you have made or a misunderstanding of the situation.
2. Talk to each other: Communication is important. Employers and employees should try and resolve problems by discussing with each other. Both parties are responsible for this.
Union members can ask their union and employers can ask their employers’ association to approach the other party on their behalf if need be.
If an employee believes that he or she has a personal grievance, it must be raised with the employer within 90 days of the action complained of, or the date they became aware of it.
If the problem cannot be resolved by discussion, either party may:
a. Contact the labour office that will provide mediation services, including providing information and/or guidance on how to resolve the problem
b. The labour office will consider whether there is still a chance to resolve the problem by mediation.
If so, they may encourage the parties to explore other ways to resolve the problem.
The labour office will then make a decision based on facts provided by both parties: and
c. If not satisfied with the determination provided by the labour office, the parties may go to the Industrial Relations Court for a judicial hearing.
The court may also direct the parties to get further mediation assistance if it thinks that may be useful.
I hope this information addresses your inquiry Mr Lombe, and thank you for taking interest in knowing these procedures.
Dear readers, let us keep this link open as we share matters on labour and employment.
(This column is an initiative of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. For comments or questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)