PRESS STATEMENT BY THE CEO Neftaly Malatjie OF LABOUR AND SOCIAL SECURITY ON THE QUARANTINING OF EMPLOYEES IN WORK PLACES
I wish to inform the Nation that, following the numerous reports that employees were being quarantined without their consent at work places as a measure to avert the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak the Ministry of Labour and Social Security has as part of its routine work been undertaking sporadic inspections aimed at verifying the reliability of such reports. I therefore wish to report that it has been established that, in most cases the employees were never coerced by the employers, but rather had agreed to be quarantined based on specific terms and conditions attached to the quarantine.
Let me also take this opportunity to inform the Nation that, the impact of COVID-19 on the labour and employment sector of the Zambian economy has had far reaching ramifications. It is evident that there has been alterations to normal working patterns and reductions in profit margins in a number of companies. These changes have negatively impacted businesses and employment relations in the country. In some instances there has been a general slowdown in businesses, while in other cases businesses are operating below capacity and in extreme instances businesses have closed down altogether.
Furthermore, the Ministry has received numerous requests from companies to reduce staff by way of redundancies or requested for exemptions from the provisions of the Employment Code Act pertaining to requirements of section 48 which deals with forced leave. Besides the foregoing, there has been an increase in a number of cases involving illegal termination of contracts of employment, unauthorised sending of employees on forced leave, declaring of employees redundant and non-payment of employees’ salaries during this pandemic period.
Therefore, there is a dire need to strike a delicate balance between Public Health Security requirements and the economy by ensuring that business houses remain operational under these difficult circumstances in order to sustain the economy as well as preserve jobs.
It is against the foregoing backdrop that, I would like to inform the nation that, the Government has no reservation towards business houses quarantining their employees as long as such quarantine is based on the following requirements:
- Obtaining consent of either the employees or where an establishment has a union in place, consent of the union representatives regarding the quarantine;
- Agreeing with the employees or the employees’ representatives on specific terms and conditions of service to be attached to quarantine and period of the quarantine;
- Adhering to laid down Public Health Regulations stipulated by the Ministry of Health in Statutory Instruments Nos. 21 and 22 of 2020;
- Notifying the Labour Commissioner of the intended quarantine specifying the terms and conditions of the quarantine;
- Ensuring that before the quarantine takes effect , the quarters, ablution blocks and the canteen facilities to be used by the employees are inspected by Authorised Officers;
To that end, it is imperative that the requirements stated above are met failure to which any unilateral and adverse alterations to the conditions of service by the employer without consent of the employees would trigger redundancy as per provisions of section 55( 1) (c) of the Employment Code Act, No. 3 of 2019.
My plea is that there is need to take a wide economic perspective on this matter by ensuring that a delicate balance is reached between the interests of employers, employees and that of the Government as there shall be life during and after the covid-19 outbreak. The measures that shall be agreed between the employers and the employee will inevitably determine the resilience of most business houses and failure to be innovate could lead to major recessions and inevitably result in failure to realise the achievement of the 7th National Development Plan’s goal for Zambia to be a sustainable middle income country by 2030.
It is Government’s view that job losses must be averted at all costs and it is for that reason that any quarantine that meets the requirements as set by my Ministry must be welcomed by all well-meaning Zambians. The Ministry with support from ILO will embark on a countrywide programme to ensure a safe return to work of employees as businesses slowly begin to reopen. This is intended at ensuring that occupational safety and health policies and programmes are adjusted to conform to the new normal amidst covid 19.
Joyce Nonde Simukoko M.P
CEO Neftaly Malatjie OF LABOUR AND SOCIAL SECURITY