What is going on at the University of Zambia (UNZA) must be quite distressing for students and their parents. Events at this institution of higher learning seem to have fallen into a destructive pattern.
University of Zambia workers, both lecturers and support staff, have identified the students' times of greatest need as the periods to cause disruption to the academic calendar. This is something the two groups have identified as their most potent bargaining leverage.
Almost like clock work, the lecturers' union times its strikes as the university is approaching examinations periods. The other unions prefer to unsettle students as they are getting back from holidays for their registration for a new semester. But this time, there are two major differences, although the disruptive effects are the same. Now, all three unions have chosen to take their go-slow action at the same time, just when students are due to start their registration. What is surprising is that, UNZA, as an institution remains open even when students are on holiday, but the unions representing all categories of employees do not seem to press for their demands until students are about to report back. This smacks of a callous strategy of using the students as pawns in negotiations.
But there is an even more disturbing aspect to the current position taken by the three unions. After being made aware of the need for more funding to UNZA to help meet some of the demands of its workers, President Levy Mwanawasa assured that he would ask the Ministry of Finance to source for an additional K44 billion for the institution. This was goodwill at the highest level of the Government towards the three unions' members. The expectation then was that the unions would soften their stance, to give their institution and the Government further opportunity to build on the funding already committed.
The three unions have already made their point and in the scheme of pushing for improved conditions of service, they should get back to work and allow for the other side to do something about the problem. The danger of this situation is that should the current impasse persist, it could cause agitation among the student body. Should this happen, UNZA management will be forced to use its resources to deal with a restive student body.
Therefore, before things get out of hand, the three workers' unions must ask their members to go back to work so that students can complete their registration formalities and prepare for lectures. Leaving students just to loiter about the university campus will not do anyone any good. The interests of the members of the three workers' unions will then be imperiled.
29 April 2008
Posted to the web 29 April 2008