The Judiciary Support staff today morning started an industrial strike and cancelled it few hours later after being served with an injunction obtained on Tuesday by the Attorney General stopping them from proceeding with their strike aimed at pushing management to start giving them housing allowance.
When Nation Online crew visited the High court in Blantyre in the morning, people waiting to access justice, court staff and friends of the courts including lawyers were seen standing outside the court premises waiting for a clear direction as the support staff union were locked up in a meeting trying to map the way forward.
Speaking in an interview after the meeting, union president Charles Lizigeni expressed disappointment over the decision by the office of the Attorney General saying the issue has now taken a new direction from labour dispute to a court case.
Said Lizigeni: “Yes we had heard about the injunction from other quarters yesterday [Tuesday], but since the Attorney General had not yet served us with the same we decided to go on with the industrial strike since we do not act on hearsays.
“But as I was addressing the support staff in Blantyre on the procedures to be followed during the sit-in, Miss Apoche Itimu turned up and served us with the injunction. Now as court officers we have to comply and we have called-off the strike.”
However, Lizigeni said they are still in consultation with their lawyer Lusungu Gondwe if there is any possibility to vacate the injunction.
“The issue is straight forward, I do not understand why they want to complicate matters, they can stop us now but we will not give up. We have followed all procedures and have been having discussions with all concerned parties, I thought we were making headway,” he said.
According to Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson Apoche Itimu, the planned strike did not comply with Section 44 of the Labour Relations Act which makes it mandatory to give reconciliation or dialogue a chance.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Judiciary management also branded the planned strike illegal, pointing out that it was not done in full compliance with the requisite procedures laid down under the Labour Relations Act and all relevant laws.
Judge Esmie Chombo has since ordered the Attorney General to file an inter partes hearing application within 14 days. The hearing has been set for May 18.
Commenting on the matter, Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula said as per requirement and procedure, the Support Staff cannot continue with the strike after being served with the injunction.
He said all cases which were to appear in court today morning will be rescheduled to a later date.
In a March 20, 2017 letter to management, Judiciary support staff comprising court clerks, court marshals, interpreters and court reporters asked the Judicial Service Commission to forward their grievances to the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development.
Through the letter, the staff demanded that their conditions of service should be harmonized with those of judicial officers, judges and magistrates.
The support staff later issued a 21-day and seven–day ultimatum respectively to have their demands addressed or authorities risked unspecified action.
In February this year, judges and magistrates staged a similar sit-in to press government to pay them housing allowance as approved by Parliament in 2012, other benefits and arrears dating back to July 2016.
In an earlier interview, spokesperson for the support staff, Andy Haliwa, said the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development was expected to effect payment of the housing allowance to the support staff as well.