What is a Trade Union?

All about Trade Unions, Salary Disputes, Wages and Salaries, Minimum Wages and more on Mywage Zambia.

By Sanday Chongo Kabange

A Trade Union is a membership-driven body made up of workers with similar aspirations, mission and ideals. Membership to a Trade Union is made up of workers whose objectives are to protect and advance the interests of the workers in their places of work.


In Zambia, there are close to 30 unions. Many of these unions are affiliated to the mother unions namely, the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the Federation of Free Trade Unions (FFTUZ).  The FFTUZ came into being after a group of ZCTU affiliates and independent unions split from ZCTU to form a splinter organ.  

Since the enactment of the Industrial and Labour Relations Act of 1993, more unions have emerged; some have split away from the mainstream unions while others have disaffiliated from ZCTU.

Where to find a Trade Union

Interested workers can find a recognised Trade Union at their workplace in various ways. Some of the easy steps to find a Trade Union are through:

  • Employers
  • Trade Union representatives at places of work
  • Zambia Congress of Trade Unions
  • Federation of Free Trade Unions
Click here to find a list of Zambian Trade Unions.

Joining a Trade Union

Any worker in formal employment has the legal right to join a Trade Union of their choice in Zambia. Uniformed personnel such as police and soldiers are not allowed to form unions but they can join a union if they so wish. This would be done through a different channel aligned to the nature of what they do. For example, a uniformed medical practitioner can join a Trade Union such as the Medical Health Workers Union or a uniformed media practitioner can become a member of a Union of Journalists. 

An employer that recognises a Trade Union has no legal basis to punish an employee from joining or becoming a member of a Trade Union of their choice.  It is however, important to understand the Pros and Cons of a Trade Union before becoming a member.

Joining a Trade Union in itself has its own merits and demerits. Therefore, workers must ensure that they fully understand the legal and legislative standing of a particular Trade Union before becoming a member. 

What are the rights of employees in respect of trade union membership?

The Industrial and Labour Relations Act as amended in 1997 provides every employee with the following rights:

  • The right to take part in the formation of a trade union and to be a member of a trade union of their choice. 
  • The right to obtain leave of absence from work for the purpose of taking part in trade union activities.
  • The right to take part in the activities of a trade union including the right to seek and hold trade union office subject only to the rules of such trade unions.
  • The right not be prevented, dismissed, penalized, victimized or discriminated against or deterred from exercising the trade union rights.
  • The right not to be a member of a trade union or to be required to relinquish membership.
  • The right not to do work normally done by an employee lawfully on strike or locked out unless such constitutes essential service.
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