Local staff at the Chinese-owned Golden Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe on Friday downed tools to force management to review their salaries and other conditions of service.
Staff also accused some members of the hotel management of both physical and verbal abuses and threatened to continue boycotting work until their demands are met.
There was a huge police presence but calm reigned while guests, who had already booked at the hotel, were attended to by a skeleton staff of Chinese nationals.
As media rushed to the hotel on Friday, the staff and management were yet to start discussions amid disagreements over what format the talks would take.
The deadlock was compounded by the absence of any recognised union or workers committee representing the striking staff for fear of reprisals.
The hotel’s general manager, Jenny Jiang, said the management had not received any notice of strike but was surprised when no worker turned up for work.
“We are still looking for a formal meeting, we are waiting for them to choose a group of representatives and once we have met and heard their grievances, we will come up with a statement to say this is the way forward,” said Jiang.
But speaking on condition of anonymity, several local workers narrated tales of abuse suffered at the hands of their Chinese management members and complaints of low wages.
One of them said while the main issue was low wages, they are further aggrieved by other poor working conditions such as deduction in a salary for attending a funeral of a close relative or reporting sick despite having leave days deducted as well.
“We are suffering in silence but these are long standing issues. This is why we unanimously agreed to go on strike. We did not issue any notice because we have no union. When labour officials come here to start a union, they are discouraged by management,” said the employee.
This is not the first time the hotel has been affected by bad publicity of worker management relations. A few years ago, the hotel was also reprimanded by labour officials after it transpired that workers on night shift were forced to sleep at the hotel in dehumanised conditions or forced to walk home after midnight without any transport. n