By Mrs. Joyce Nonde Simukoko
As Chairperson for Labour and Social Security of the PF Central Committee, I wish to respond to some uninformed positions expressed by opposition UPND leader Mr. Hakainde Hichilema on the retirement age and social security for workers.
1) It is regrettable that opposition UPND leader Mr. Hakainde Hichilema who aspire for the highest political office in Zambia continue to issue ignorant statements saying if he is elected President he would reverse the retirement age from 65 to 55 years because people would be too tired to run their own business if they wished to do so after their retirement.
When the Patriotic Front came to power in 2011 we consulted with the labour movement and the tripartite consultative council consisting of employers, employees and government. Several meetings were held and the tripartite consultative council proposed the intention on retirement age which offered three (3) options. When President Lungu came to power in January 2015 he concluded what government had started with the unions in consultation with the workers and employers.
In March 2015 President Edgar Lungu directed the Ministry of Justice to immediately revise the law on retirement age to provide for three (3) options an employee can exercise to retire. The President’s directive was very flexible and the following changes were made through an amendment to Statutory Instrument (SI) No.63 of 2014 to introduce a flexible graduated arrangement that will afford employees the following options:
a) Early Retirement – 55 years (discretion of the employee who should give notice to the employer while aged 54 years i.e. 12 months before. The employer cannot refuse).
b) Normal Retirement – 60 years (normal/compulsory retirement age)
c) Late Retirement – 65 years (discretion of the employer if employer still needs the skills of the employee since it is past the normal retirement age (60). Negotiable with the employee).
Hence, Mr. Hichilema and other less informed or malicious people should know that there is no rigidity involved in this arrangement as government is NOT forcing employees to retire at 65 years but has instead provided this flexible graduated arrangement which actually empowers employees to make their own choice either to retire at 55 or 65 years.
2) Mr. Hichilema says he would reverse the retirement age from 65 to 55 years because people would be too tired to run their own business if they wished to do so after their retirement.
Mr. Hichilema should know that there is NO law in the country which forbids workers from engaging in their own private businesses while in active employment. Workers do not have to wait for retirement to start their own businesses or build their own houses because waiting till retirement to start a business or build a house as Mr. Hichilema insinuates is just too risky. There is enough evidence to show that many people who start businesses after retirement age using pension benefits never succeed and end up bankrupt and destitute with lots of regrets. The purpose of pension and social security in general is to look after a retired worker and cushion their needs till the end of life, not to use for business activities. Unlike Mr. Hichilema’s thinking, the position of the PF government is to encourage workers to start businesses and own houses while they are still in active employment and not wait until they are old.
3) UPND falsely attributes youth unemployment in Zambia to people taking longer to retire, hence denying young people of employment opportunities and worsening youth unemployment.
Retirement or Pensionable Age does NOT drive unemployment!
Mr. Hichilema does not seem to understand that it’s not retirement or pensionable age that drives unemployment, as the Central Statics Office (CSO) has clearly demonstrated. Mr. Hichilema should understand that the population pyramid in a developing country like Zambia which is mostly a youthful population is the complete opposite of the population pyramids in developed countries with aging populations.
In the Zambian job market those in retirement age only constitute 5% while youths looking for jobs account for 65%. Hence even if Mr. Hichilema chases all the 5% retirees the unemployment situation for young people would still be negligible since 60% of them would still remain unemployed. In Europe by contrast the aging population is the majority. The longer people take to retire from employment there the more they deprive young people of job opportunities. This is simple arithmetic which Zambian voters expect anyone aspiring for the highest office in the land to comprehend.
4) Insolvency of the Pension Schemes
Perhaps Mr. Hichilema is too comfortable to understand that most public and local pension funds have over the past 50 years become technically insolvent due to various challenges and are in billions of kwacha in debt. Hence in the short-term, the PF government’s measure to institute a flexible graduated retirement systems provides immediate relief on the Pension Schemes and the National Treasury since the number of people leaving is reduced. We urge Mr. Hichilema to consult with experts at the Ministry of labour and Social Security to gain further understanding.
And we are happy that the PF government has instituted Pension Reforms to ensure that workers’ pension schemes are solvent, profitable and sustainable in the long term. Government is working very hard to ensure that all retirees are paid their pension benefits in full. The PF Labour and Social Security Committee of the Central Committee will also soon be engaging unions, associations and employers on the best modalities to support retirees.
We therefore call on the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Pension Boards and Unions to continue sensitizing the workers and the public on this straight forward issue and not fall prey to the political machinations of the likes of Mr. Hichilema.
MRS. JOYCE NONDE SIMUKOKO,
PATRIOTIC FRONT (PF) CHAIRPERSON FOR LABOUR AND SOCIAL SECURITY OF THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE