Mondays with the GS

Process of legal strikes and lock outs in Zambia: A Historical and Contemporary Perspective. 


The historical relationship between the State and the Labour Movement in Zambia, particularly during the period 1969 to 1991, was one based on suspicion, antagonism and therefore acrimony. The most notable feature of this relationship was the unhealthy industrial relations and apparent conflict and rivalry, between the Labour Movement and the Government. This acrimonious relationship goes on to show why all the strikes that took place between 1964 and 1991 were illegal in the sense that they were taken without exhausting the legal procedures. Many labour leaders were arrested or publicly reprimanded for organizing these strikes. It has, however, been argued that it was not legally possible to have a legal strike during that time as the law did not, paradoxically, allow for such a situation to arise. In short, the procedures and requirements for holding a legal strike were unrealistic. A policy of ‘strike first and talk later’ was the established norm by the Labour Movement. In its publication on “the role of the state in Zambia’s Trade Union movement,” German institution the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung maintains that Zambia experienced the largest number of strikes between the years 1964 and 1971. Since independence, the highest number of strikes registered in one year in Zambia was 1161 in 1969.

When the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) took over the reins of power from United National Independence Party (UNIP) in 1991 they promised an overhaul of the legal structure of the Labour Movement to strengthen it. Essentially this was interpreted to mean the redrafting of the 1990 Industrial Relations Act particularly as it affected the organizational structure based on the multiplicity of Unions. It will be recalled in fact that before its ascendancy to the helm of political power the MMD, itself dominated by former labour leaders such as President Frederick Titus Jacob Chiluba, strongly condemned the 1990 Act as being anti-union and divisive. Therefore, in 1993, the Industrial and Labour Relations Act was enacted. 

Failure to reach settlement by conciliation, Legal Strike and Lock Outs
In the last edition on settlement of collective disputes, it was mentioned that the issues in dispute may be taken to either a board of conciliators or before a single conciliator for resolution. However, there are instances when these matters are not resolved during the conciliation process and either party may opt to escalate the matter to the next stage for resolution. PART IX, Section 78 of the Industrial and Labour Relations Act provides that “(1) Where a conciliator or board of conciliation fails to settle a collective dispute the parties to the collective dispute may (a) refer it to the Court; or (b) conduct a ballot to settle the dispute by a strike or lockout.”

Section 78 (3) to (10) provides for the following road map when staging a strike or lockout. 

Where the parties, decide to proceed on strike or lockout, the parties shall not proceed on strike or lockout unless a simple majority decision of the employees present and voting is made by employees in favour of the strike or lockout, 78, (3).

The strike or lockout may, subject to section seventy-five, commence ten days following the decision to do so and may continue for an indefinite period during which the dispute remains unresolved. 78, (4).

The Minister may intervene before the commencement of the strike or lockout under subsection (4) to try and settle the dispute. The Minister may, after consultation with the Tripartite Consultative Labour Council apply to the Court for a declaration that the continuance of the strike or lockout is not in the public interest. 78, (5) (6).

The Court shall make a decision within seven days of the application for a declaration that the strike or lockout is not in the public interest. 78, (7).

Where the Court issues a declaration in favour of the application, the strike or lockout shall cease, and the dispute shall be deemed to have been referred to the Court under paragraph (a) of subsection (1). 78, (8).

The Court shall have power to decide whether the workers on a legal strike should be eligible for payment of wages during the period of the strike. 78, (10).

Section “101 (1) further states that “No employer or other person shall take part in a lockout which is not in the contemplation or furtherance of a collective dispute to which the employer or that person is a party.”

The Industrial and Labour Relations Act, under section 5(1)(h), grants an employee the right not to do work normally carried out by an employee who is lawfully on strike or who is locked out, unless such work constitutes an essential service.

Strikes are only lawful if they are resorted to after due process and only if they do not involve an essential service Section 76 (6).  It should be noted that the right to strike is strictly limited to parties to the dispute.  This simply means that even though members are willing to stand in solidarity, only employees working for the institution where the dispute has occurred can participate in such industrial action.

Responsibility when holding a legal strike

It must be emphasized that the Labour Movement does not resort to strike action in order to debilitate the institution where an industrial dispute has occurred, but strikes must be recognized as legitimate actions that may be undertaken by workers or employers in furtherance of their dispute. Employees should also be made aware that the legal recognition afforded to holding a strike by no means affords employees or trade unions a “blank cheque” to participate in any and all forms of conduct which could force the employer to accede to their demands. There are considerable restrictions levied upon strikers and the indiscretion of such restrictions can, and do, have serious implications for all parties involved.


The process of holding a legal strike in Zambia remains lethargic and employees are cautious about taking such action after a total of 234 nurses that participated in a strike held 2013 were dismissed from hospitals in the Country given that they were essential workers. However, members should be comforted by the fact that if they follow the due process, it is their right to hold a legal strike or a lock out in this Country. It is a well1known fact that there can be no equilibrium in industrial relation without the freedom to strike or take industrial action. The right to strike is one of the essential means available to workers and their organizations for the promotion and protection of their economic and social interest

Issued By,

Kasapo Sundrea Kabende (Mr.)
Zambia Union of Financial Institutions and Allied Workers (ZUFIAW)

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