The Industrial Relations Court (IRC) has said the swearing-in of eight new panellists will help clear a backlog of cases currently pegged at 6 766 dating back to 1999.
In an interview in Blantyre yesterday after the swearing-in ceremony, IRC assistant registrar Innocent Nebi said the panellists have been sworn at a time the court had stopped issuing dates for case hearings since the expiry of contracts for previous panellists in February this year.
The Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development appoints the panellists who act as mediators between employers and employees when cases are taken before the courts. They also work in collaboration with the IRC chairperson and his deputy.
But Nebi yesterday said to motivate the panellists, they are engaging government to raise their sitting allowances currently pegged at K2 000.
Besides, as one of the motivation to the panelists, Nebi also said they are planning to open a new registry in Zomba to cater for the Eastern Region instead of the Blantyre registry catering for both Southern and Eastern regions.
“At the moment, we are also screening cases which have been outstanding so that we should give them priority dates. Other than that, we are also doing pre-hearing conferences at the IRC to settle some matters through mediation as all cases cannot go before the courts,” he said.
Nebi also acknowledged resource constraints as one of the challenges crippling the IRC. He said with the chairperson and deputy only working together with the panellists, there is always a challenge encountered.
Blantyre now has 10 panellists, five each for employers and employees.
Mzuzu registry has four panellists, two each for employers and employees, while Lilongwe registry has six panellists with three each for employers and employees.
In his speech, Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda urged the new panellists to take the work seriously and commit themselves to help in disposing of cases.
The new panelists are Masozi Mwenefumbo, Isaac Chimunthu, Shakespeare Sesani and Gertrude Masambo for employees and Matrice Mwase, Gloria Zimba, Duncan Chambamba and Francis Patrick Chalera for employers.
At a professional development training in Mzuzu in March this year, IRC chairperson Chimwemwe Kamowa encouraged companies to be conversant with labour laws to avoid putting pressure on the courts.
According to records, the Southern Region has the most cases at IRC recorded at 3 164 followed by the Central Region with 2 809 while the Northern Region has 730 and the Eastern Region has 63.
In terms of districts, Blantyre has the highest at 3 148, Lilongwe has 2 720, Mzuzu has 651, Kasungu has 81 and Zomba has 43.
Between 1999, when the court was established, and September 2012, the case backlog stood at 2 480. During the period, the court registered 6 392 cases and concluded 3 912, according to a list compiled and published in our sister newspaper Weekend Nation.
During its formative years, the court first registered a backlog of two cases in 2001, one in 2002, four each in 2003 and 2004; 13 in 2005 and 19 in 2006.IRC was established under Section 110 (2) of the Constitution.