Saturday, April 30, 2011

CELEBRATING LABOUR DAY 2011

At three o’clock am the alarm on the cell phone sounds, its time to go to work. It will be more than fifteen hours before getting back home. The mode of transport to and from work is by pick-up truck even when it rains. At work they put on torn safety clothes and gear. When such problems are channeled to management, the answer is “there is no money; the companies financial position is not good”.

Poor working conditions and unfair overtime remuneration as in the case above are just a few of the numerous problems workers face in Malawi. The government seems to ignore the problem, pretending it is not notified of such malpractices. The labour minister often times makes visitations to small organizations and companies while leaving out big reputable organizations and companies who are the slyest culprits when it comes to breaching the labour act.

Trade Unions are nothing but syndicates robbing poor workers of their hard earned money. Very few are able to do their work freely as mandated by law. Employers regard them as anarchist organizations which aim to bring companies down. Union members are offered money or other incentives to compromise them and if they stand their ground are intimidated or even fired.

Labour officers at the district offices are unprofessional and easily corrupted by employers. Often times they side by the employers. They only assist if they suspect someone has some knowledge of the law and threatens to take the matter further. Unskilled workers, who are the most abused and have very little knowledge of the law, literally end here with their grievances.

The Industrial Relations Court is under staffed and overwhelmed with cases dating as far back as fifteen years or more. Very long periods pass between the time when the case is filed and the first hearing, and judgement. This is justice denied to aggrieved Malawian workers. Due to these long periods, Trade Unions sometimes ask aggrieved unemployed members to contribute extra money to cater for legal fees. This is unfair and should not be case because the union still receives monthly contributions from its active members.

As we commemorate Labour day this year, I am asking the Malawian government to do more in enforcing the Labour Act and protect vulnerable workers from exploitation and various kinds of abuses by employers. The labour minister should keep up the surprise visitations to various companies and organizations, small and big. Something has to be done on the problems the Industrial Relations Court is facing. The court often times sites lack of Assessors as the main cause of delays, damn.

May I take this opportunity to congratulate the government on the introduction of the mandatory pension scheme. We need to do more than this.

WATER POLITICS

One Isaac Mpazula of Soche Township in Blantyre intrigued me with his water hole project. On the 10th of April, 2011 he was interviewed live on Capital FM radio on his water hole project which supplies water to about twenty thousand people in Chilobwe Township. Isaac Mpazula constructed a ten metre deep water hole on Soche hill and supplies water by gravity to a kiosk downhill. He sells the water to the local community. The whole project cost him about two million kwacha plus or minus periodic maintenance.

This highlights the problems people in Blantyre city and its surrounding areas are facing due to water shortages, and the various methods desperate citizens have resorted to. Regulation and healthy concerns do not have to matter in such situations. One cannot stay without a bath for two weeks because the law stipulates he cannot dig a shallow well in an area under the city’s jurisdiction. If you cannot drink water from a shallow well because of healthy concerns, you will eventually die from dehydration. The government has the obligation to provide its citizens with clean water, if it cannot manage to do that then it is proper and logical to forget about the law (abiding by it will kill people) and let private individuals and organizations try to make ends meet, without burdening them with regulation which at the moment only makes solving the problem at hand impossible.

In fact the citizens from Chilobwe are lucky as compared to other townships like Bangwe in particular. I have been living in Bangwe township from 2004 and having been using water from a shallow well ever since. Before 2004 I used to stay in Chilomoni and the situation there was better off because we used to have running water almost every twenty four hours mostly around midnight. In Bangwe my family has to keep water in a 210 litre drum which my wife bought at Limbe market priced at K7000. Last year my family moved to another house and the water situation is now even worse. In the worst situations we stay for two weeks without tap water. During the night when we are supposed to be sleeping peacefully, we always keep our ears sharp listening for any signs of water from the toilet cistern tanks. When the water is running everybody has to wake up and assist in filling the 210 litre drum and the other buckets and gallons that we keep. This water we use for drinking and cooking. The water that we buy from the shallow well at K10 per bucket is used for sanitation and laundry. The water from the well is definitely unsafe since most people in the township use pit latrine toilets.

At the moment it is a curse to live in a house with a water closet. We have adapted to the situation by learning to control our bowel movement by timing it to once a day. It costs a K10 bucket full of water to flush the toilet. It is now normal to take advantage of the situation, by relieving yourself when you are at work or go visiting. Just remember to ask or check if the taps are running to save yourself from embarrassment.

At Michesi village (Maldeco) in Mangochi district, the situation is almost the same. Maldeco Fisheries shares some of its pumped water to the local community via four water kiosks and/or taps for free. These water points are not enough to cater for the whole population, and Maldeco’s pumping capacity cannot suffice an increase in the number kiosks. Women start queuing for water at the main kiosk as early as 4am which also makes them vulnerable to other social problems. Some people have to walk about three kilometers to access this clean water. This has provided some youths with a lucrative trade supplying water to working class homes on wheel-barrows. A 20 litre gallon costs K20 or more depending on the distance. Not among the local population are able to access this clean water and some or even many go to the lake to draw water, bath, wash dishes and do their laundry. The water at the lake is very unclean and full of trash and dead sea weed. Whether this is due to water pollution or some unknown environmental phenomenon, I do not know but I have always been wondering how these people are able to use this water at all. The government has a plan of developing Makawa, a fishing village about five kilometers from Maldeco on the road to Monkey Bay into a Rural Growth centre which might ease the lack of portable running water in this area.

In my day to day living, lack of electricity is just a nuisance though it costs the country billions in economic losses. I cannot charge my phone, watch TV, iron my clothes, heat my food quickly in the microwave etc. Lack of water is a misery and a near death situation, period. Water is life and I cannot live without it.

Some may wonder why we commemorate World Water Day? Is it to remind ourselves of the above problems and raise awareness or is it to lobby donors for funding. Speeches and colourful displays but no deeds. If at all there is action then we are doing very little.