Deputy Minister of Labour Vera Kamtukule has ordered Lingadzi Estate owners in Lilongwe to pay workers their two months delayed salary within five days or risk closure.
The deputy minister issued the ultimatum when she conducted a labour inspection visit to Lingadzi Estate, a tobacco farming corporation.
Among the key issues established during the inspection were that workers are in their third month without pay and that the estate has been operating for a month without potable water due to electricity disconnection.
Kamtukule described the situation at the farm as economic exploitation because the workers are still rendering their services regardless of not being paid.
She said the workers must be paid their arrears in full, observing that paying them in instalments will only worsen the situation.
Said Kamtukule: “These workers have day-to-day needs and going for three months without being paid is uncalled for.
“If the employers do not have the financial muscle to sustain this estate then they should close it.”
One of the workers, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, said one of the top officials lends them money at 100 percent interest and the loan is deducted from their salary.
Kamtukule called for an immediate stop to the practice and proposed that workers should be given an advance payment.
She said with the Covid-19 pandemic around, water is a critical resource at the estate.
The estate’s workers union secretary Jeanne Samson said they have tried to reach out to their employer on the issue of delayed salaries, but to no avail.
“Communication is not good at this estate. We are not informed on why salaries have delayed,” she said.
Lingadzi Estate farm manager Ayub Mwedadi attributed the delay in paying workers on time to Covid-19, saying the pandemic has slowed down income generating activities at the estate.
He said they have taken heed of the minister’s orders and recommendations and are working to ensure that workers are paid soon.
The estate has 180 employees, of whom 18 are on permanent contract.