Attorney General (AG) Chikosa Silungwe has hinted at the possible redrafting of the Labour Relations Act Amendment Bill which has attracted a deluge of criticism amid fears it threatens the workers’ rights to conduct a strike.
The Bill was tabled in the National Assembly on Friday, but was later referred to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament for review.
The controversy stems from a planned amendment of Section 46 to empower employers to “deduct wages of an employee who is on strike”.
Amid mounting opposition, Deputy Minister of Labour Vera Kamtukule argued that the Bill seeks to strike a balance between the right to strike and the need to produce in an economy.
However, in an interview yesterday, the AG, though defending the deduction of wages as internationally accepted, suggested the Bill may undergo revision.
“It is settled in international human rights law. There are recommendations from the International Labour Organisation, it is nothing new.
“That said, I do know that the Bill was referred to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament. As we speak, they have a meeting in Salima to see whether for Malawi there could be some middle ground given the realities of the complex that Malawi is,” he said.
Currently, the Malawi Congress of Trade (MCTU), in a statement issued yesterday, has asked the government to suspend the amendment of the Act, describing it as a “threat to fundamental workers’ rights”.
On Friday, MCTU and the Employers’ Consultative Association of Malawi issued a joint statement denouncing government for not consulting them in the Bill’s drafting process.
However, the Ministry of Labour argues that consultations were conducted in 2016.
The pro-human rights Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (Cdedi) joined a bandwagon of the Bill’s critics, accusing the Tonse Alliance government of pushing the country back into dictatorship.
At a press conference yesterday, the organisation’s executive director Sylvester Namiwa explained: “President Lazarus Chakwera is busy introducing very strange bills in Parliament, which aim to take away people’s right to industrial protests, which employees in the country enjoyed.”
But Silungwe hit back at the Bill’s critics, pointing out that they needed to do more research on the matter.
“I would disagree that the issue is taking the country into dictatorship. That is far from it. In any event, the right to bear labour practices is not absolute under the Constitution. There are allowable restrictions under Section 44 of the Constitution.”