In the autobiography of Lee, we learn that when Singapore started its independence its per capital income was 1 000 dollars. Thirty years after, it had risen to 30 000 dollars. The per capita income had been growing at arithmetical progression of $1 000 annually.
I do not know what Malawi’s per capita income was in 1963 and what it was in 1993. But, I very much doubt if the amount was 30 times the former. The technology we were using in 1993, was not different from that of 1963.
As we were approaching self-government, Chakufwa Chihana led industrial strikes, much to the chagrin of the new rulers. Why is this young man attempting to create chaos just when we are beginning our self-government? His life was in danger, he fled the country. Thereafter, strikes were made illegal, if not by law at least defacto.
The adversarial spirit of trade unions in Malawi did not die despite the uncongenial circumstances upon the year 1993. Thereafter, with the advent of political liberalism, a spate of strikes ensued.
The strike of civil servants last month has fortunately been briefer than was expected. But what good it has done to the strikers and the nation at large, we can only wait to see.
Most countries that industrialised after Britain worked hard to create happy relations between workers and employers.
A country whose workers have adopted a combative spirit and stage strikes too often loses a lot on the global market. That was Britain’s experience before Dame Margaret Thatcher made history as her country’s iron lady and chief executive.
“I warned our workers” says Lee. “The world does not owe us a living. We cannot live by the begging bowl.”
This is what President Joyce Banda should be saying to all those who think because she is in good terms with the international community, she will keep on obtaining funds from abroad. Some of which she can pass on to them in the form of pay and perks. Our traditional benefactors, the Europeans are experiencing problems of their own. In times of dire necessity, every nation acts according to the maxim, “charity begins at home”.
Malawi could do with fewer strikes. Let us not forget the civil servants grievance first surfaced when late Bingu wa Mutharika was in trouble with the non-professional Judiciary employees. Since the civil servants have come out of the strike with some measure of success, we cannot conclude that there will not be any more strikes in the public or private sectors.
For future industrial peace, it is perhaps time to review Labour Law and rectify anomalies which ignite discords. Is the law framed in such a manner that encourages resorts to strikes willy-nilly?
Civil servants are the most important segment of government. Cabinet ministers and members of Parliament (MPs) can go on leave for six months, there will still be government rendering services to the people. During colonial days, it was civil servants who were ruling the country. The Minister for Colonial Affairs and the Prime Minister were in London. When civil servants are absent from their desks, public suffering multiplies. It is necessary to specify those categories of civil servants who should not resort to strikes; at least not without adequate advance notice because of the danger to public welfare, only the industrial class of civil servants should resort to strikes if they feel they cannot be attended to otherwise.
What does the law say about paying those who go on strike? Needless to say, workers should be paid only for those days when they are at work. They should not be paid for the days they are on strike. Otherwise, you will encourage them to prefer strikes to negotiations.
What does the labour law state about professional contracts? Of late, the industrial court has been awarding huge compensations to people whose contracts have been terminated prematurely. Whenever the government pays someone compensation for the period that remained, it is paying two salaries for one job. This is not an economical way of handling public funds.
I suggest, for any contract, six months should be the maximum period for compensation. Why should a few people bask in windfalls when sick people in the hospitals are dying because the Ministry of Health does not have funds to pay its suppliers and the suppliers are withholding deliveries?
A parliamentary committee should look into this matter and make further recommendation.