Trade Unions and Competition Agency pledge to cooperate in Zambia

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is always ready and open to collaboration mechanisms aimed at ensuring that the Competition and Consumer Protection Act, 2010 is fully enforced”. This was said by Mr Patrick Chengo, Competition Analyst of CCPC during a one day workshop on the role of trade unions in competition enforcement held on the 13th of February, 2012 at Hotel Edinburg, Kitwe, Zambia.

The purpose of this event, organised by Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) and Fredrick Ebert Stiftung (FES), was to sensitise trade unions about competition policy and law as well as its enforcement modalities, as a way of building their capacity to levels that would enable them to meaningfully participate in competition enforcement in the country. The meeting was thus expected to outline the various means through which trade unions can participate in the process of competition enforcement in Zambia. The meeting was necessitated by the observed reality that competition enforcement is often regarded as something that is contrary to the interest of labour unions, especially since their activities are often perceived to be in conflict with competition objectives. So, FES and CUTS came together and designed this event as an exploratory activity to test if trade unions have any interest in competition enforcement in Zambia.

The training programme drew participation from the major trade unions in the province such as the Zambia Union of Industrial and Allied Workers. Mr Rijit Sengupta, Regional Director (Africa), of CUTS International outlined an introduction to competition policy and law, covering the main issues that are prohibited under competition law before Mr Chengo presented how each of these aspects are covered under the Competition and Consumer Protection Act, 2010 of Zambia. Participants were also taken through examples to demonstrate how curbing anticompetitive practices would enhance workers’ welfare in the country.

The meeting was characterised by a keen participation by trade unions, who brought to the fore certain (alleged) examples of anticompetitive behaviour currently prevailing across various sectors (retail, brewery, textile, etc.) in Zambia. The meeting thus proved to be an eye opener to trade unions, as most of them indicated that it was their first time to be exposed to competition issues. Many of them also indicated that they had not been aware that CCPC existed, pointing out the need for more similar workshops to ensure that their knowledge on competition issues is further enhanced. In addition, representatives of trade unions promised to disseminate the knowledge they had gained to their respective constituencies. CUTS and FES expectation from this workshop was met, and it also provided an opportunity now for the CCPC to engage more meaningfully with the labour sector.

The programme ended with participants promising to utilise the opportunity extended to them by CCPC by providing the necessary inputs/information to CCPC to penalise market malpractices. They also registered eagerness to utilise the ‘whistle-blowing’ provisions that are enshrined in the Act, as that gives them protection against victimisation as well. In addition, trade union representatives also pointed out that there were many previous cases that CCPC investigated and dispatched (especially while dealing with mergers and acquisitions) without consulting with them. This often resulted in problems for the workers, and should be avoided in the future.

It was thus resolved that as a follow up to the meeting, both trade unions and CCPC would try to explore cooperation measures to try to balance their respective agenda of competition promotion and workers’ welfare. Once such a process of cooperation/dialogue is established, it could also culminate in signing of a MoUs to formalise the process of consultation between the CCPC and the trade unions. It was evident that this workshop has kick-started an otherwise dormant aspect of competition enforcement in Zambia, which CUTS is very keen to take forward with support from FES, CCPC and others.