For the umpteenth time justice delivery in the country came to a grinding halt yesterday after Judiciary support staff across the country downed tools to press for a 27 percent increment in salary arrears, among other issues.
At the High Court in Blantyre, the support staff protested inside the High Court compound demanding to have an audience with Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda.
The staff then went for a meeting to discuss the next course of action. The outcome of the meeting was felt almost immediately when the frustrated staff members locked down the Judiciary complex while chanting songs of discontent as court users, some of whom came for bail applications and case hearings were left in awe.
In a telephone interview, Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula said the workers had refused to cancel the protest after holding discussions with Deputy High Court Registrar Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa who was delegated by Chief Justice Nyirenda to meet the staff.
Nyirenda was reported to be away in Lilongwe to preside over cases.
Said Mvula: “The support staff wrote the Chief Justice a few days ago raising some issues and a demand to see him today. Among their concerns, were salary disparities coming from the background that when the main Civil Service got an increment of 45 percent, Judiciary support staff only received 18 percent thus they are demanding the difference in arrears. There was an agreement with government in 2012, which the Executive pledged to equate increments all across the public service.”
However, the strike yesterday has taken the Malawi Law Society (MLS) unawares, according to its president John Suzi-Banda.
He said: “We were involved in dialogue meetings last week with the Judiciary and the representatives from the Executive arm, but we were not made aware that there was such issue [of increment of arrears]. Actually, we are surprised that they are striking. We hope that a quick resolution to this matter will be found because every democracy needs functioning courts.”
Apart from a 27 percent increment to their arrears, Mvula said the workers were also demanding promotions, house allowances and calling for a review of the salary harmonisation process which they said to be unfair to them.
Kingsley Sumani, a resident of Chilomoni who was at the court to process bail for his cousin, could not believe his eyes when the workers stormed out of the meeting shutting down the facility as the police prosecutors were seen taking back suspects to waiting vehicles.
In January 2015 the Judiciary support staff and the Executive were also locked in another impasse as the workers refused to provide their services, an action which the Executive described as an ‘illegal’ strike.
The strike over salary issues lasted eight weeks.