Trade unions yesterday opposed government’s proposal to amend the Labour Relations Act to empower employers to deduct wages from workers who are on strike.
Deputy Minister of Labour Vera Kamtukule tabled the amendment Bill in the National Assembly last Friday. However, the planned amendment of Section 46 was later passed to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament for review.
Reacting to the proposed amendment, employees through their respective unions have denounced the move, saying it will take away workers’ right to strike.
Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU)—the mother body of unions in the country—yesterday held a vigil outside Parliament Building in Lilongwe to present a petition to lawmakers against the Bill.
In the petition signed by MCTU president Charles Kumchenga and general secretary Madalitso Njolomole, the union observes that the amendments has serious implications on workers and demands government to immediately call for a Tripartite Labour Advisory Council meeting.
MCTU is also against removal of employees and employers among the panellist of the Industrial Relations Court (IRC). It called for more funding to IRC so that it effectively handles cases.
University of Malawi Academic Staff Union at a press briefing in Blantyre also called on government and Parliament to suspend the amendment process, saying labour unions were not consulted.
The academic staff union president Tiyesere Mercy Chikapa said the amendment of the Labour Act will empower employers to mistreat their workers.
She said: “Government wants to assault the Constitution. It wants to neglect its duty to strive to adopt mechanisms by which differences are settled through negotiation, good offices, mediation, conciliation and arbitration.
“Government wants to mislead the nation that the amendments are in line with International Labour Organisation’s guidelines and international best practices. This is untrue and wicked.”
Chikapa said the union will not allow the State to dismantle the globally recognised right to withdraw labour, which is the only effective tool against exploitative and oppressive employers.
Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM), Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives, National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi have also demanded the amendment to be thrown out.
TUM president Willie Malimba yesterday said: “The Bill will block us from exercising our right to go on strike if government fails to give us what we deserve.”
But Kamtukule defended the Bill yesterday, saying the “no work no pay” does not infringe on workers right to strike.
“Government is not promoting oppression of employees. The first three days of strike, employers will be responsible for their pay and after three days the workers unions will be responsible” she said.
However, a legal practioner Allan Muhome argued in The Nation yesterday that the Bill must be understood in the context that Malawi is one of the poorest economies, paying striking workers unions cannot afford.
Meanwhile, the Employers Consultative Association of Malawi (Ecam) has welcomed the amendment, saying the changes are in the best interest of employers.