Project to extend coverage to informal sector starts
Workers’ Compensation Corner with MAYBIN NKHOLOMBA
FOLLOWING the successful signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board (WCFCB) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for the purpose of extending social security coverage to workers in the informal construction sector, sensitisation meetings have been held so far with saw millers based on the Copperbelt.
The meetings were targeting, among other things, to capture hundreds of employees working at various Zambia Forest and Forestry Industrial Corporation (ZAFFICO) fields on the country’s social security system.
The sensitisation meetings held in Ndola and Kitwe for hundreds of saw milling Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) by WCFCB, the National Pension Scheme Authority (NAPSA) and ILO revealed serious information gaps about the social protection systems obtaining under WCFCB and NAPSA.
As far as the saw millers were concerned, of course not all of them, compliance with both institutions was only a necessity if it provided access to the ZAFFICO contracts for timber business. They consider social security to be an addition to the cost of doing business.
It is not, as they say in cost accounting, a fixed cost regarding employing labour to undertake their businesses. What does not come out clearly in the minds of the MSMEs, is the fact that they expose their employees to very serious hazards every day.
We are even told that these MSMEs do not in fact employ people on permanent basis, rather they use casual labour. The casual labour is shared among various MSMEs, and it is used mainly for tree felling, cutting and logging.
As readers may agree, tree felling and loading is a very hard and physical job, often taking up serious energies from the young and old men and women working at various sites, thus they constantly get exposed to dangers of contracting injuries, and even old age without any form of protection whatsoever.
If you asked me, these are the people for whom social security for employment injuries was initially established to serve, these are the workmen.
Readers will recall that WCFCB succeeded the then Workmen’s Compensation Fund to increase the scope of coverage to include white-collar jobs, but essentially, the scheme in its original design was intended to serve the interests mainly of blue-collar workers.
There are several other blue-collar workers in all sectors of the economy but the starting point is the construction sector and there after other efforts will be made to extend coverage to them as well.
We see so many workers crushing stone’s, constructing houses and other buildings and to these, you might add those ones working on road construction sites.
Yes, these workers are earning a living and this is how it should be, but we question whether these workers are preparing well for the rainy day or not. That day when capacity to earn will be lost due to either old age or injury or disease.
Old age or disablement as a result of employment activity are real possibilities and they should not be taken lightly at all. These workers are contributing to the economic advancement of the country and they should be protected in the same way as all others elsewhere in the economy.
That is why we welcome the timely effort by ILO to intervene through an MoU with both institutions, NAPSA and WCFCB, to reach out to these vulnerable members of our society.
The ILO, under its green jobs programme, is targeting to help both NAPSA and WCFCB to reach out to the informal construction sector. Both institutions have experienced challenges reaching the MSMEs. Though I do not speak on behalf of NAPSA, I have a fair appreciation of this challenge from my interactions with colleagues at NAPSA.
Suffice to say that casual workers in the MSMEs need protection more than the average worker in the formal sector currently covered under both schemes, but reasonable coverage of these workers will come only if those who employ them will appreciate the role that social security plays in the lives of people. It remains our sincere hope that major players in the MSMEs will rise to the challenge to ensure that justice is done to the blue-collar workers much in the same way as their colleagues in the formal sector, notwithstanding challenges of organisation and reach.
The author is corporate affairs and customer services manager at Workers’ Compensation Fund Control Board.
The column was originally published by Zambia Daily Mail.