Ten representatives from the sugar branches of the National Union of Plantation Agricultural and Allied Workers of Zambia (NUPAAW) met for a national workshop to discuss the current situation in the expanding sugar sector and to draft a work program that would lead the union work in the sector. Attending the meeting was also the International Director of the Canadian Auto Workers, union that supports the IUF Sugar project in East and Southern Africa. In addition to the workshop, the IUF Global Sugar Program held a Sugar Network activity with the participation of delegates from the GMB, a general workers union in the United Kingdom, and GAWU, a sugar workers union from Guyana. The meeting took place from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 in Lusaka.
The Zambian sugar cane sector is experiencing an expansion driven by investments by Zambia Sugar, an Illovo Sugar subsidiary, and a government policy that encourages cane growing through small-holders associations. Last year, Zambia Sugar completed its expansion program that has more than doubled its annual production capacity to around 440,000 tonnes of sugar, accompanied by an expansion of cane growing operations. The expansion, however, means a hardening of the terms and conditions of work.
While the union is able to negotiate direct collective bargaining agreements with Zambia Sugar and Kafue Sugar (both cane processors), the remaining production units, most of them commercial cane farmers, fall under the so-called Joint Industrial Council (JIC). The JIC was introduced in 1997 and allows employers to negotiate either individually (at enterprise level) or at industry/sector level. In the agricultural sector, this means that the union negotiates terms and conditions with farmers engaged in growing several different products, from cane to tomatoes and potatoes, and who are also substantially different from one another: commercial and small-holders. The JIC tend to have lower standards than the CBA individually negotiated, reflecting the lowest common denominator in the sector determined by the so-called small-scale holders.
There is, for instance, the case of the Kaleya Small Holders Company Limited (KASCOL) that provides services and maintains rather complex corporate links with the Kaleya Small Holders Farmers Association (KASFA). According to the union, KASCOL transformed itself from one of the units with the best conditions and wages to one where employees have lost about 80 percent of their income because of the JIC. Interestingly enough, KASFA is one of the few African groups which have been certified as fair trade sugar supplier. Along the same lines, Zambia Sugar recently acquired Nanga Farms in the Mazabuka area, but the company, an Illovo Sugar subsidiary, has not integrated the Nanga workers to the Zambia Sugar labour agreement and still maintains them as a separate unit.
NUPAAW sugar work program
NUPAAW recently held its Quadrennial Congress (Aug. 20-22) and members of the newly elected leadership attended the workshop. The workshop heard detailed reports from the sugar branches, as a first step towards discussing and agreeing on a national work program. The reports are available upon request. The proposed work program focuses on:
- Developing a union strategy to have specific negotiations within the cane and sugar sector, recognising its characteristics; a move that involves negotiating with individual employers while pressurising for policy changes.
- Implementing initiatives to strengthen the union such as negotiating rights for women workers (e.g. Maternity Protection for women seasonal workers); policies regarding employment of foreign workers; support the reactivation or constituting of joint safety committees; agreements with employers on introduction of casualisation and outsourcing practices; training union members; and actively participating in sugar network activities, starting of course with the union’s membership to the IUF.
- NUPAAW will strive to participate in governmental processes such as the EU sugar process in Zambia, which is open to all “stakeholders” but the union has never been part of; or in fair trade schemes that involves the Kaleya small holders, whose cane is processed by Zambia Sugar.
There are many common grounds in the NUPAAW sugar work program and the IUF Sugar project in Africa, and the workshop recommended 2011 activities focusing on networking, with NUPAAW agreeing to participate in a working visit to Malawi, and on ICT training targeting the union’s national officers and the sugar constituency.
The sugar workshop in Zambia was also a special occasion for the IUF sugar project as the Social Justice Fund of the Canadian Auto Workers (SJF-CAW), which supports the project, visited one of the project’s activity and was able to share information on the union’s international solidarity work and the “social unionism” approach which the union implements.
IUF Global Sugar Network
In early 2010 the IUF Global Sugar Program started an initiative to strengthening the sugar unions based on frequent and regular exchange of information on union matters, corporate strategies, and trade issues, with the aim of increasing solidarity links and expanding the IUF Global Sugar Program. Although the IUF provides some financial support, the initiative is basically self-financed through the “pairing” of unions which develop (or are interesting in developing) bilateral activities in the context or as a result of the IUF Global Sugar Program. The focus of the network is now on the EU/ACP sugar process(es) which combine the work previously done in the English-speaking Caribbean and in Africa.
A key feature of the network activities is to support on-going union programs, which in 2010 it was the case of the Zambian national workshop in the context of the sugar project in East and Southern Africa.
The Zambian delegates appreciated the efforts made by the overseas delegates, and found the information provided by the CAW, the GMB and the GAWU quite relevant, particularly in terms of organising strategies, negotiation practices, and solidarity links.
The ten Zambian delegates (2 women) attending the proceedings came from sugar branches of NUPAAW: the three processing plants: Kalungwishi, Kafue and Zambia Sugar, and from the following farms: Kaleya, Kushiya, MGM, Delta and Nanga. Also, attending was Annie Labaj, International Director of the Canadian Auto Workers and head of the Social Justice Fund (SJF-CAW); Komal Chand, president of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Bert Schouwenburg, international officer of the GMB, a general workers union in the United Kingdom, and Jorge Chullén,IUF Global Sugar Co-ordinator.