Striking civil servants in Malawi on Wednesday closed down the country’s three airports, forcing airlines to cancel scheduled flights.
Employees of the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) in Malawi joined the civil servants strike by closing down Kamuzu International Airport (KIA), Mzuzu and Karonga airports as a show of solidarity and agreement with the Civil Service Trade Union (CSTU) demands.
Joel Mhango, vice-chairperson of the CSTU DCA-Kamuzu International Airport Committee said as per international agreements, the airports only opened aerial cover for the national airspaces since these cannot be closed for security reasons.
The KIA shutdown forced three of the major airlines that fly into Malawi—Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and South African Airways—to cancel their flights.
In the capital Lilongwe, hundreds of irate civil servants marched through the city to Capital Hill where they officially presented their petition to government.
CSTU president Elias Kamphinda Banda also presented fresh demands, including asking Minister of Finance Ken Lipenga to withdraw his statement which indicated that government cannot afford a pay hike, if the striking workers are to go back to the negotiating table.
The civil servants also repeated their demand for an immediate removal of the Government Negotiating Team (GNT) chairperson McPhail Magwira.
The demonstration was peaceful from the starting point near Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) round-about to the finishing spot inside the Capital Hill, just a few metres from the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) offices.
About 100 heavily armed riot police officers and three armoured vehicles accompanied the procession as the marchers, carrying a symbolic coffin, placards and singing songs against the present regime, made their way through the City Centre.
Initially, police wanted to block the marchers, asking them to seek permission from Lilongwe District Commissioner.
Besides Kamphinda Banda, the chanting civil servants were also accompanied by Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) secretary general Dennis Kalekeni and the outspoken member of the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (Ccasu) Jessie Kabwila, who said she attended in solidarity as a member of the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama).
Deputy Chief Secretary to Government Willie Samute, who was accompanied by Principal Secretary for the OPC and Secretary for Human Resource and Management Sam Madula, received the 10-point petition on behalf of government.
Kamphinda Banda told Samute that the civil servants held the march after realising that the ongoing negotiations with government were not yielding anything.
After receiving the petition, Samute said it will be forwarded to President Joyce Banda.
On his part, Kalekeni said any negotiations with government will be reopened only after Lipenga withdraws his statement that government cannot afford a pay hike.
Lipenga on Tuesday said government can ill afford a salary increase for civil servants as meeting their current demands would see the wage bill jump by 200 percent from the current K92 billion (about $255.6 million) to K276 billion (about $766.7 million).