The Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU) says there is need to increase the number of sitting judges and panelists at the country’s Industrial Relations Court (IRC) to clear the backlog of cases, which are mostly at the expense of vulnerable workers.
The reaction follows revelations by the IRC that it is yet to conclude 4 023 cases as at June 2017, which dates back to 2006 due to among other things, lack of panelists.
ICR deputy chairperson for Lilongwe Registry Chimwemwe Kamowa said the cases are ready for full trial but lacks commitment of panelists; a development she said has deayed the conclusion of the cases.
“We know there has been an outcry from the public on the same but we cannot sit alone, we need both employee and employer representatives as panelists.
“They [panelists] are sometimes fully engaged somewhere, so for them to spare time and sit at the courts is a challenge as most of them are not available. Maybe it’s time we had court-based panelists or increase the numbers or at least make it to be optional for parties to choose whether they need panelists or not in their case,” she said.
Currently, ICR has five deputy chairpersons or judges—two each in Lilongwe and Blantyre and one in Mzuzu. It also has 10 panelists from MCTU and another 10 from Employers Consultative Association of Malawi (Ecam).
MCTU secretary general Denis Kalekeni said the situation has been necessitated by the acute shortage of judges at the court as well as lack of committed panelists.
“Industrial cases are so many, therefore there is a need for placing of additional judges in the IRC. Most of the people who seek legal redress at IRC are without financial capacity to hire lawyers and it is these poor people who are being suppressed,” said Kalekeni.
Employers Consultative Association of Malawi (Ecam) executive director Beyani Munthali said the employers body had in 2011, made a proposal to increase the number of panelists to ensure that justice is served.
“We appreciate the need to expedite adjudication of cases in the IRC because we are major stakeholders,” he said.
Malawi Confederation of Chambers and Commerce (MCCCI), in its 2016 Business Climate Survey rated the legal environment for private sector to settle disputes as an obstacle to doing business in Malawi. n