Malawi Prisons’ junior officers have threatened to seal all prisons to force government to start paying them risk allowances and provide them with personal protective equipment (PPEs) in the face of Covid-19 pandemic.
Mzuzu University-based security expert Eugenio Njoloma has since warned the State security agents in the country to avoid staging strikes, saying they have the potential to endanger national security.
Malawi Prison Service spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba in an interview yesterday said authorities were working on defusing the industrial action.
According to a communication to all prison facilities dated August 12 but not signed, the industrial action was scheduled to start 6am today.
Reads the memo: “All junior officers are requested to come in large numbers, regardless of shifts, to beef up security in all entrances before the dot of 6am so that security should not be compromised.”
The junior staff warned that the prison gates would remain closed and no admission or discharges would be made.
“Senior officials have been encouraged to work from home except for those working in clinics, while police and court officials were to be barred from entering the prisons,” it reads further.
But Shaba said management is engaging the aggrieved staff to call off the industrial action to ensure that operations in prisons, which house about 14 000 inmates against a rated capacity of 5 000, are not affected.
He said: “We don’t even want the sit-in to take place because it is not allowed in a security organisation and that has always been our position. We want everything to be normal and we are hoping they will understand management’s position and give management and the ministry ample time to look into issues that they are demanding.”
Shaba claimed that PPE are already being distributed among the staff and that the Department of Disaster and Management Affairs (Dodma) has also given the Prisons Department money to procure more PPE.
On risk allowances, he said the prison authorities have been engaging government on the matter, assuring the junior officers that the ministry will respond accordingly.
“The department does not have money for the allowances. The allowance will have to come along with salaries, if the matter materialises,” said Shaba.
Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda did not pick up calls when called several times.
Meanwhile, Njoloma has said such industrial action poses a security risk to the country through breached law and order operations.
He said: “Already, the prison warders are not enough. Having such industrial action will mean less manpower and security will be compromised.”
Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance executive director Victor Mhango in a separate interview asked government to properly handle the situation, saying sealing the prisons would lead to violations of inmates’ rights, including being deprived food and health services.
He said: “Sealed prisons have the potential of extending the custody of inmates who are due for release.”
Lately, there have been increasing cases of Covid-19 in prisons with two confirmed deaths of inmates so far.