Language versus employment
Published On October 28, 2015 » 867 Views» By Hildah Lumba » Features
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Labour & Employment ForumTHE reactions to an article I wrote in the Tuesday edition of the Times of Zambia, under the title ‘Should kids suffer for using vernacular’, have prompted me to shift from the topic I intended to share this week, which is on factories.
In the face of the mushrooming entrepreneurs who have turned their backyards into manufacturing centres, some members of the public have raised a number of concerns which I will tackle next week.
For now, I feel persuaded to address the issue of local languages because some readers who have reacted to the article I have referred to have located a link to employment.
I did state, in the article, that some parents are reluctant to let their children learn indigenous languages because they only have faith in English.
In recent years, some children have come under a strict English-only rule in their homes and they are, therefore, unable to communicate in vernacular.
The situation is made worse for children who attend schools where, even at break time, English is the only mode of communication among their peers.
As the extended family system continues to crumble, such children seem not to have any place where they could learn their mother tongues.
Those who are locked up in boundary (or wall) fences do not have a chance to learn the local languages commonly used in their neighbourhoods.
A Lusaka-based colleague, who I will simply refer to as CK, called to share his thoughts on this thorny subject.
From CK’s standpoint, restricting a child to English only has serious social ramifications which ultimately affect how one mingles with other employees in a workplace.
CK says even if English is the official language for Zambia, parents should be careful in the manner they balance the language scale for their children.
He argues that if there have been routine calls on Government to introduce flexible syllabi in schools which should prepare children for the informal sector, it is something of a paradox that the very youngsters are being confined to a language that they would not use, say, in a carpentry workshop.
CK is cautious, though: “I am not saying by embracing local languages we should hurt other people’s feelings in our work stations, and surrender ourselves to nepotism and tribalism.”
He says vernacular should be used sparingly, outside business or formal engagements.
This view is shared by Mr Peter Bwalya, who argues that exposing children to English only is as good as preparing them specifically for the formal sector.
“But how many of these kids we are teaching to speak English only will find jobs in the formal sector?
“Let’s face reality and allow our children to learn as many languages as they could possibly muster. Think of the Tswanas; they are proud of their indigenous languages, so why should we be ashamed of ours here?” Mr Bwalya asked.
CK and Mr Bwalya have a common viewpoint: Language has a significant bearing on a workplace, and the way children are socialised at an early stage determines their interactions with their future workmates.
As a result of these reactions, I dug up some notes I had seen in the Canadian HR Reporter.
Like religion, language in the workplace is becoming a major concern for many employers given the increasing diversity of the Canadian workforce.
With people of so many different nationalities and ethnicities working together — coupled with Canada’s bilingual status — the varied and diverse linguistic backgrounds of an organisation’s workforce frequently presents opportunities as well as challenges.
Language can be a pretty contentious issue, and employers need to be aware of the legal obligations placed on them, as well as best practices from a diversity management perspective.
Managing diversity in the workplace involves encouraging, promoting and treating diversity as a competitive advantage.
This is also true for Zambia where there are complexities which arise from the local language mix.
It underscores the importance of language as being essential to every aspect and interaction in our everyday lives.
Benjamin Ngalande, a Bachelor of Labour and Employment Relations third-year student at Mulungushi University, has offered his views on social security and suggested the way forward for Zambia’s informal sector.
Mr Ngalande writes: “The informal sector is the part of the economy whose jobs and nature of employment are not recognised as normal income sources, and on which taxes are [usually] not accounted for in the Gross National Product and Gross Domestic Product.
“The informal sector could also be interpreted to include activities such as jobs that are performed in exchange for something other than money.
“In the informal sector, employed persons are not entitled to paid leave, pension, gratuity and social security, which include medical care, injury at work, survivors’ benefits, unemployment and invalidity.
“Informal sector employees are also casual or day labourers, domestic workers, unregistered or undeclared workers and some temporary workers or part-time workers.  They work in formal or informal firms (small unregistered or unincorporated businesses), households or with no fixed employer.
“Informal agriculture is also included in this category. In Zambia the informal economy accounts for 80 per cent of its entire population. Zambia’s draft Decent Work Country Programme notes that the majority of workers in informal employment are women, who are often exposed to personal financial, economic and social risks, and vulnerabilities resulting from their need to find employment and generate income.
“Policy  instruments  need  to be taken  into  account,  the  diversity within  the  informal  economy  with  regard  to  the  degree  of  formalisation,  the  status  of  employment,  the  revenues,  the  level  of  coverage  and  the  ability  to  pay  the different  groups  within  the  informal  economy.
“Despite their greater exposure to risk and income insecurity, the vast majority of informal economy workers are deprived of social security coverage. Lack of social protection is a major contributor to social exclusion, poverty and destitution.
“But its impacts are also felt in the formal economy since workers and enterprises in the formal economy are obliged to carry the full burden of funding the social security system through taxes or social insurance.
“Understanding the determinants behind the lack of social protection in the informal economy like the one in Zambia is important to help review, amend and enact laws and policies that will ensure women and men have equal access to wage employment in all sectors of the economy.”
Mr Ngalande, I would like to thank you sincerely for your contribution to this column. As a scholar in labour and employment relations, there are certainly many things readers and I will learn from you.
Times Printpak (Z) Limited management last Friday walked the talk about motivating and uniting employees through the ‘Keep Times Clean’ campaign.
Employees at all the stations shelled their office attire to keep themselves busy by mopping and scrubbing floors, cleaning windows, tending the flower beds, and generally getting rid of all unsightly stuff at the company premises.
It was good to see the workers, who were led by the company top brass, gleefully carry out their tasks and demonstrate that “there is power in unity”.
The cleaning exercise, which did not carry large resource demands, proved to be a good strategy for change.
Giving the workers some responsibilities caused them to rise to the challenge and show ownership of the company assets.
There were vital benefits derived from the campaign which included promoting cleanliness – safety included – in the workplace, and encouraging exercise.
We are a nation of non-exercisers for the most part. Most men have adopted a layback lifestyle since many things are done for them in their homes.
The womenfolk are not an exception. In this era of domestic workers, most of our female colleagues have withdrawn to their sofas from where they shout instructions to either their maids or dependants, while they toy with television remote controls.
These lifestyles have led to numerous health complications such as hypertension and diabetes. It was, therefore, nice to see Times staffers in action, breaking a sweat.
Unleashing the workers’ imagination, ingenuity and creativity will ultimately result in their contributions to the organisation being multiplied many times over.
This is an initiative which the company management could perhaps consider entering in the company’s calendar of events.
Dear readers, let us keep this link open as we share matters on labour and employment. For comments or questions:

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