About 6 766 people seeking justice through the Industrial Relations Court (IRC) are yet to know their fate. This is the case as the court is struggling to clear the backlog that dates back to 1999.
Speaking on the sidelines of a Continuing Professional Development Training organised by the Institute of People Management Malawi (IPMM) in Mzuzu, IRC chairperson Chimwemwe Kamowa mentioned resource constraints, including financial and staffing, as key contributing factors to the pile up of the backlog.
She said the labour court continues to receive an increased number of cases. In the circumstances, she said it is critical that managers in various workplaces are conversant with and follow labour laws to avoid putting pressure on the court.
Said Kamowa: “Most of the cases are avoidable if managers are conversant with the labour laws. My appeal to IPMM is that they should continue with this training that provides information on labour laws. Otherwise, the numbers of cases we are having in relations to labour disputes are on higher side.”
She said the court is supposed to come up with judgement on any case heard after 21 days, but due to staff shortage and resources, the cases take longer than anticipated.
With the available resources, Kamowa said the court only manages to conclude about 50 cases per year.
For the IRC to hear a case, it requires three panellists apart from the chairperson or deputy chairperson. Two of the panellists represent employers and employees.
On how long it would take to clear the backlog, Kamowa said said she could not competently project as it would depend on availability of funds and staff.
She said Blantyre IRC registry received an K80 million annual allocation from government which was not enough.
Said Kamowa: “We cannot determine when to clear the backlog. What is clear is that the reasons leading to backlog is shortfall of staffs and funds. If funds and staffs are made available, things cannot be the way it is today.”
Records show that the Southern Region is the most hit with 3164 cases followed by the Central Region with 2 809, the North has 730 cases while Eastern Region has 63.
In terms of districts, Blantyre has the highest at 3 148, Lilongwe has 2 720, Mzuzu has 651, Kasungu has 81 and Zomba has 43.
Reacting to the development, Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU) president Luther Mambala said government has a responsibility to provide the court with all the resources so that it should serve the public well.
He said: “It is unfortunate that such is the situation. All along, we have been pressurising government to provide all the resources for proper functioning of the court. However, what we hear from the court is underfunding. This is not on.”
Between 1999 (when the court was established) and September 2012, the case backlog stood at 2 480. During the period, the court registered 6 392 cases and concluded 3 912, according to a list the court compiled and published in our sister newspaper, Weekend Nation.
During its formative years, the court first registered a backlog of two cases in 2001, one in 2002, four in each year of 2003 and 2004; 13 in 2005 and 19 in 2006.
IRC was established under Section 110 (2) of the Constitution. The court has jurisdiction over labour disputes and such other issues relating to employment. n