Chinese Businesses Face Increasing Pressure in Zambia under Sata

After Michael Sata, an outspoken critic of labor abuses by Chinese mine owners, won the election in Zambia, Chinese mine owners immediately gave significant raises to their workers. Yet now, workers at one mine say an announced 100% pay raise has not materialized, and they have gone on strike. From Reuters:

“The workers have again gone on strike. They were promised a pay rise of 2 million Zambian kwacha ($400) per month, which they have not been given,” the union president Mundia Sikufele told Reuters.

About 2,000 workers at NFC Africa Mining, majority-owned by China Nonferrous Metals Mining Corporation, first went on a strike earlier this month demanding higher wages.

Sikufele said the workers called off the strike earlier this month after the government asked the management to give them a 2 million kwacha pay rise on Oct. 10.

“But the government, which proposed the 2 million kwacha is now saying the right procedure is for the workers to allow the union to negotiate with the management,” Sikufele said.

Watch footage of the strike from Euronews.

Sata came to power on a wave of anti-China sentiment in Zambia. Since taking office, he has announced that he is “allergic to corruption” and has been cracking down accordingly, and Chinese businesses in the country are being singled out. From ABC News:

Earlier this week, Sata canceled a contract with a Chinese company to build a presidency building and a deal with a Turkish company for a new international airport, saying proper bidding procedures were not followed.

Sata said Friday his government will study all trade protocols so that substandard goods are kept out.

Sata has made China’s growing influence in Zambia’s economy a political issue, threatening to run “bogus” Chinese investors out of the country. He tapped into anti-Chinese sentiment running high in a country where many see the Chinese as exploitative and abusive, and as destroying local manufacturing by flooding markets with cheap goods.

And from Foreign Policy:

China-watchers have been observing for about a decade now the growing influence of China as it buys friends in the developing world among the producers of raw materials to feed the growing Chinese economy. A combination of Chinese party, government, military and preferred businesses have been extracting and importing raw materials — in the case of Zambia, copper — by means of cheap labor and sometimes abusive labor practices and with the complicity of the host country’s government.

Sata was transparent about his plans and tough in his talk regarding the Chinese during his campaign for office. He called the Chinese investors “infestors” and vowed that if elected he would put an end to the flouting of labor and tax laws and other abuses, abuses that cannot happen if the government is determined to stop them. In other words, through corruption and neglect, many African governments allow foreign interests to treat their countries as easily commandeered cheap resource pools. Sata was so insistent that the Chinese threatened, in an obvious attempt to sway the election, to divest in Zambia should the people elect Sata. The people were undaunted, Sata is now elected, and there is no sign that the Chinese will make good on their threat. They can hardly afford to do so given that Zambia is the continent’s largest copper exporter.

Read more about the impact of Sata’s election on China, and on China’s relations with Zambia, via CDT.

October 19, 2011 1:00 PM
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