Civil servants this week staged a strike to press for better salaries and work conditions amid earlier confusion that the strike was called off. Paida Mpaso speaks to Civil Servants Trade Union (CSTU) president Elia Kamphinda Banda who argues that the strike was a success. Government is yet to meet the civil servants’ demand.
We received mixed signals that you called off the strike for negotiations, only to learn later the strike was still on, why?
While I would settle for negotiations as the best and most acceptable way to settle differences, I want to [point out] that calling off a stay away or strike can only be announced by me or any CSTU leader and not a GNT [Government Negotiating Team] member. This particular call-off was done by [GNT chairperson Dr MacPhail] Magwira, not me. Even if you look at the statement calling off the stay away, you will find that my signature is not there. Much as negotiations have always been paramount, I did not call off the stay away.
Wasn’t the response poor on the first day of the strike?
Not at all. I think civil servants responded so well because two terms were used. CSTU was telling civil servants to stay away while others termed it a sit-in.
Stay away means people should not report for duties while sit-in means reporting for duties, but not working. In this case, some civil servants reported for duties, but did not work while others stayed home.
That is why when we met at Capital Hill Freedom Park on Tuesday and thereafter, offices shut down at the Capital Hill. The same thing happened when Blantyre civil servants said enough is enough, you saw it all. Civil servants are just tired with a system that is disrespecting their plight.
Were you not worried at first that people, especially in Blantyre, did not show up?
As far as I am concerned, people showed up for the stay away. There was confusion. But in the end, our message was clear. But later on people knew who was fooling who.
Can you term the strike as a success then?
[Many] people showed up and actually it was the biggest strike bearing in mind that Capital Hill was in our hands. Don’t you think it was a success? Amene sangakhutire ndi mfiti.
Do you think people will listen to you next time you try to hold another stay away?
What do you think? If they were behind me and my team, do you think they wouldn’t [be behind me gain]? Civil servants in Malawi are living like peasants. They eat bonya on a daily basis. They buy the cheapest products on the market because that’s what they can afford. If what I am saying are lies, I will not be surprised to see civil servants not listening to me again.
If what happened at Capital Hill and Blantyre government offices is anything to go by, then I think civil servants have trust in me.