In Zambia today, it has become common practice for employers to hire employees on part-time and temporary conditions of employment. This phenomenon is mainly caused by a number of factors, such as the prevalence of a high level of unemployment in the country’s economy, which has made desperate job seekers to willingly accept part-time or temporary jobs.
Also, the meager incomes earned by a vast majority of individuals who are employed on permanent conditions of service in the country have prompted such individuals to actively seek part-time or temporary jobs in order to supplement their inadequate incomes.
Moreover, an attempt by employers to circumvent the costs associated with catering for employees’ housing, medical, vacation, terminal, and other benefits normally accorded to permanent or full-time employees has contributed to an escalation in the casualization of labor in Zambia.
Besides, the desperation among retired citizens to find a decent way of earning a living while they await the disbursement of their delayed retirement benefits has compounded the problem of casualization of labor in the country.
As a result, a lot of Zambians today are subjected to a high level of job insecurity, unstable incomes, and lack of housing, medical and other employment-related benefits.
There are many ways by which the Zambian government can redress the problem of rampant casualization of labor in the country.
- Firstly, there is a need to provide adequately for low-interest loans to small business prospectors through the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) to lessen the current over-reliance by unemployed Zambians on employment in cor-porations.
- Secondly, the government needs to reduce the costs borne by business and non-business organizations in providing for fringe benefits to their full-time employees through free and adequate life-saving healthcare for all Zambians, greater investments by the government in low-cost housing schemes, and making improvements in social security and unemployment benefits.
- Thirdly, it is important for the government to ensure that labor-related laws and regulations are not flouted by employers, and to enact pieces of legislation designed to make it illegal for employers to hire casual workers to fill permanent positions in their organizations.
- Fourthly, there is a need for Parliament to enact legislation designed to make retirement benefits payable within 60 or so days (Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays inclusive) from a retiree’s last date of work. Benefits (or any portion thereof) not paid within this period should fetch 5% interest per month.
- Moreover, the government needs to create more jobs through lower taxes and interest rates designed to induce investments, savings, and consumption in order to make job seekers less vulnerable to employers of casual workers. The revenues that would be lost through lower income and value-added taxes would be captured through income taxes and valued added taxes to be paid by large numbers of new employees in a steadily expanding economy.
There is a need to reverse the current emphasis on stabilizing inflation at the expense of job creation and economic growth. A relatively high annual rate of inflation of around 10-15% owing to reductions in income and value-added taxes and interest rates intended to stimulate the supply of goods and services and the demand for goods and services would be acceptable.
Since aggregate wages and salaries are generally low and interest rates and taxes are high in Zambia, inflationary trends can be attributed largely to excessive government expenditure, high costs of production, and inadequate aggregate supply.
To control inflation, therefore, a wage freeze, higher taxes, and high interest rates are not the appropriate instruments. As experience and common sense have taught us, such instruments can stifle economic growth and job creation. The appropriate instruments for lowering the aggregate price levels in Zambia are, and should be, the following:
(a) Trimming the national government and strictly controlling government expenditure.
(b) Finding viable ways and means of cutting the costs of energy, water, tele-communications, and both asset protection and high insurance premiums resulting from the high incidence of burglaries, robberies, and vandalism in the country. And, among other initiatives,
(c) Striving to induce investments in commodity production and research and development (R&D) to create a more competitive and innovative economic system where business entities can provide needed goods and services at lower costs and prices.
Have we ever asked ourselves why industrialized countries have very low levels of inflation and yet they have extraordinarily high per capita incomes, very low interest rates, very low levels of unemployment, and no government-fostered wage or salary freezes?
How about the idea by some government leaders that casualization of Zambian workers would now be punishable by imprisonment? Well, I think this is intrinsically a bad idea because employers are just taking advantage of the masses of job seekers in the economy.
If the government pursues the measures I have prescribed above in addressing the casualization problem, employers will have no choice but to engage workers on permanent and pensionable terms of employment because there will be a smaller number of people willing to be hired on a short-term basis.
And attempts to “abolish” casualization are equally flawed because there are some jobs in organizational settings that are temporal or occasional in nature. To expect employers to hire workers on a permanent basis for such jobs would, therefore, be unrealistic.
By Henry Kyambalesa