Employees at Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom), annoyed with government’s decision to freeze a 25 percent salary increment, have threatened to plunge the nation into total blackout by this week if that decision is not rescinded.
At Blantyre’s power house which we visited Friday afternoon and reportedly in other Escom stations across the nation, some employees had already started staying away from work except for other critical departments such as faults and revenue.
Escom management, in a move to defuse the looming strike, summoned Escom’s union leadership for a meeting in Blantyre Friday afternoon where the top tier officials demanded to know names of workers that had already started staying away from work, according to insiders.
Escom’s public relations manager Kitty Chimseu confirmed on Saturday that the meeting between management and union leaders took place, but said it was premature to comment on the matter because other meetings would follow and discussions were ongoing.
She told Nation on Sunday that Escom would come up with a statement by close of business yesterday or today.
On the other hand, employees in all the five water boards in the country have through their mother union, Water Employees Trade Union of Malawi (Wetum), engaged their managements to force government to rescind its decision on salary increment freeze.
Just like their counterparts at Escom, employees in the water boards have also threatened to lock the taps dry should government fail to reverse its decision.
But Wetum general secretary Tony Chiphwanya said in an interview on Saturday the union believes in negotiations and said it was their prayer things would not reach a situation where their members would resolve to stay away from work.
Chiphwanya said they have a forum where all five chief executive officers from the water boards meet with his union, adding the union has already offered to negotiate with government, if issues would not be resolved through their forum—managements and union.
Told that some employees were for a strike if government fails to rescind its decision, Chiphwanya said much as they may have a genuine reason to do that, the union believed the matter would be resolved amicably, disclosing that there is a planned meeting with managements of the water boards this Wednesday.
Chiphwanya admitted that failure to convince government to lift the freeze on salary increment would disappoint their 3 000 members in all the five water boards and may affect smooth operations, but said he would be able to comment on what happens if negotiations fail after their meeting/s with managements this week.
Blantyre Water Board publicist Priscilla Mateyu, while confirming about the impending meeting/s, said the union leadership were better placed to comment on such issues.
Comptroller of Statutory Corporations, Zangazanga Chikhosi, the author of a standard letter that was sent to all the statutory corporations to advise the salary increment freeze, said in an interview on Friday that individual statutory corporations were better placed to comment.
He said: “I wrote to Escom and others. Those are the ones that can give you information. You don’t expect me to start commenting about these matters in the media, and you know I can’t do that. I haven’t received any complaint from any statutory corporation [regarding this].”
Escom union officials opted to be quoted as a block apparently for the fear of reprisals after some officials in management reportedly threatened the union leaders that plunging the country into blackout may, in some quarters, be considered treasonous and they may be arrested.
The union leaders said they represent the interests of all employees and whatever move is taken, is dictated by the membership. The Escom union said the employees were looking for something higher—45 percent increment—but after negotiations, the Escom board, comprising officials from Ministry of Finance, comptroller Chikhosi himself among others, sat and approved a 20 percent to cater for cost of living and five percent as annual increment, making it a 25 percent salary increment.
Said one of the union members: “Look, this is something the board duly approved effective July 1 2016. Corporate governance entails that companies such as Escom, which