The story of two civil servants who were dismissed after working for 16 years shows how government sometimes leads the way in fuelling injustice among its citizens.
Isaac Nyirenda and Wezi Kadewere Mwale were employed by the Ministry of Information in June 1999 as sales representatives (Grade K), but got dismissed in 2015 on grounds they were temporary workers.
From 1999 until 2010 they enjoyed privileges like any other civil servant such that through promotional interviews, Nyirenda rose to Grade 7 while Mwale rose to Grade I/PO.
However, in 2010, after 11 years of continuous service, the ministry changed their terms of employment from permanent to temporary and subsequently put them on annual contract terms without giving reasons, according to documents we have seen.
The ministry did not respond when they queried the change in their terms of employment.
But it kept renewing the contracts until December 2015 when it stopped and eventually removed them from the payroll without communicating anything on the status of their employment—whether their services had been terminated or not.
In addition, the ministry did not abolish the establishment of their posts and the two continued reporting for duties as civil servants for a year and a half before they decided to stop as they were not being paid.
The two then complained to the Ministry of Justice through the Attorney General’s (AG) office demanding redress and relief for unfair treatment but they did not get any assistance.
In their letter dated July 18 2017, the two wanted, among others, compensation for unfair labour practices that caused “untold suffering to us and our families”.
But in an interview, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson Pirirani Masanjala referred the issue to the Department of Human Resources Management and Development (DHRMD).
He explained that the AG office was not well placed to handle employment procedural issues unless it was a civil suit.
Principal Secretary for DHRMD referred the matter to the department’s spokesperson Kennie Ntonga who did not respond to Weekend Nation’s questionnaire for nearly two weeks despite several reminders.
The two further complained at the Industrial Relations Court (IRC) in Lilongwe and in March 2018, following a pre-hearing conference, the court agreed with the applicants that they were unfairly treated.
In an interview, Nyirenda said since the court gave direction, the ministry had not done anything.
Lamented Nyirenda: “We are concerned that the period of 90 days elapsed and it is more than two years now the ministry has not implemented any of the resolutions despite several follow ups with the ministry’s human resources section.”
However, in an interview deputy director of administration in the Ministry of Information Sam Nankhuni justified there was nothing wrong in keeping the two for such a period on temporary employment because there was no time limit on how long one can be engaged by government on a temporary basis.
“But this depends on what the employer and employee agreed at engagement (rules of engagement)… an employee may be engaged on temporary terms for all that long period. It could be for one month or five months and so on, but it all depends on the terms and conditions agreed upon on engagement,” explained Nankhuni.
Labour unionist and former secretary general of the Civil Servants Trade Union (CSTU) Eliya Kamphinda Banda wondered how the ministry could keep people for 16 years as temporary workers while benefiting from all the privileges of civil servants.
He said: “Normally, temporary employment cannot exceed 36 months. You can’t keep an employee for 16 years on temporary basis. Again, it is very difficult to promote a temporary employee in the civil service and not even in the private sector unless you formalise their appointments.”
Kamphinda Banda suggested that the two needed to further engage the new Tonse Alliance administration on their issue for remedy.