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.