Lawlessness at Orca Deco Zambia

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From slave wages to preventing workers from joining unions to unjustified dismissals, the rights of Zambian workers continue to be abused by so-called investors with impunity. One such foreign company is Orca Deco Zambia, a leading furniture and home accessories store situated along Kafue Road in Lusaka. Originally from Senegal, this company has been operating in Zambia since 2013 and has more than 100 employees on its roster.

Our investigations have revealed that management at Orca Deco, particularly the company director Rayan Sharara, have barred workers from taking part in union activities. By law, a company that employs 25 or more workers must register with a union but any attempt to organize union activities at Orca Deco is met with instant dismissal. This is despite a recognition agreement between Orca Deco and the National Union of Commercial and Industrial Workers (NUCIW) being in place.

Since June 30 this year, Sharara has fired several workers for organizing union activities at the company. According to former workers spoken to by this publication and as can be seen from the document attached, Sharara has given no reasons for firing them. In other words, he has dismissed them without charge, let alone a disciplinary hearing, as required by law.

Further investigations have revealed that workers at this company are made to sign employment contracts the have not been attested to by Ministry of Labour, yet another breach of Zambian labour laws.

“In 2017, all employees of Orca Deco were signing two-year fixed term contracts but now it has been reduced to one year and before this contract expires, a we are fired for no reason. Could this be a form of casualisation?” one of the worker talked to who sought anonymity wonders.

It has also been discovered that Orca Deco have been engaging in a deliberate scheme to avoid giving their workers improved conditions. The one-year contracts they offer workers have no option for renewal upon expiry. Instead, the workers are let go and new ones are employed with the exact same conditions, meaning there are no wage increments year after year. The phrase ‘collective bargaining’ is alien to workers at Orca Deco because like we have already stated, union membership is forbidden.

This company that employs more than 100 workers also does not have a human resource department! All responsibilities pertaining to human resource are personally handled by Sharara, a person we have established has no qualification in this particular field and neither is he a member of the Zambia Institute of Human Resources Management.

Another curious thing uncovered by our investigations is the salary disparity between locals and expatriates doing the exact same job. For example, a Zambian supervisor gets K3,000 while a foreigner takes home K9,000. Which begs the question, what special skills does a foreigner possess that a Zambian does not? In 2018, this country is importing supervisors for a furniture store!

Who has been allowing all these things to happen? Where is the Ministry of Labour? Where is the Anti-corruption Commission? What is the department of immigration doing when non-Zambians  are being brought in to work as supervisors and managers?

We ask these questions because in a country where these institutions are functional, none of what is going on at Orca would be condoned.

We refuse to believe that our elected officials and their appointees sitting in government offices are totally oblivious labour law violations committed by foreign companies like Orca Deco. The logical explanation for the laxity by relevant authorities is that they are accomplices to crimes against the people to whom they owe the positions they currently hold and all the generous perks that come with them. According to both current and former employees of Orca Deco who spoke to us, Sharara has repeatedly dared them to “report to anyone” bragging that nothing will be done to him as he has the relevant authorities in his pocket.

As a publication that upholds professional ethics, we reached out to Sharara by voice call on his mobile, asking him to either confirm or deny reports of workers’ rights violations at Orca but he quickly cut the call, claiming he was in a meeting. We later reached out to him by text message but he has failed to respond.

We fully understand that stories of Zambian workers being abused by foreign investors have become cliché – with the authorities looking the other way and the flame of the labour movement all but extinguished, the Zambian public have become indifferent to the plight of workers – but we still hold on to the hope that our people will one day wake up and say ENOUGH!

Turkish author Mehmet Murat Ildan said: “Till a society remembers and starts caring about its forgotten poor workers, it will remain to be a cruel and tinpot society!”

American social activist Howard Zinn said: “If the workers of the world want to win, all they have to do is recognize their own solidarity. They have nothing to do but fold their arms and the world will stop. The workers are more powerful with their hands in the pockets than all the property of capitalists.

For our part as a media house, will not relent in bringing out these stories to the public until the day comes when Zambian worker gets their just reward for the contribution they make to this country’s economy.

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31