Police yesterday fired tear gas at workers of Mota-Engil protesting termination of their services at short notice.
The police swiftly moved in to quell a situation which was degenerating into chaos.
The workers, mostly security guards, were sacked on Wednesday in unclear circumstances but sources allege they were part of a syndicate involved in the theft of diesel which cost the company about K150 million per month.
Mota-Engil is constructing a $1 billion (K418 billion) railway line that passes through Malawi from Tete to Nacala in Mozambique.
However, the project is now at risk of further derailment following a similar protest in June which lasted about a week.
One of the security guards whose services have been terminated said the workers were given a two-day notice, a development that caused furore.
He said: “How do they expect us to receive the news? It was shocking and we can’t make proper arrangements to travel to our respective villages. In addition, we are getting too little money as compensation package.”
The workers, he added, refused to receive their compensation through the banks fearing they might be hoodwinked. He claimed the highest paid worker got K46 000 after working for 21 months.
Some of the workers attributed the protests to the presence of some ortuguese allegedly taking up jobs of Malawians and that there was also a contingent of 200 South Africans deployed as security guards.
But a senior Mota-Engil official, who does not speak for the company, dismissed the allegations, saying the guards were disgruntled because the company had outsourced the guarding services from a local company.
“But the situation is under control. We are coming up with amicable solutions,” he said
Mota-Engil has been accusing its local staff, especially security guards and drivers of stealing project materials, including fuel.
Last year, the company’s workers went on strike over unfair salaries and the hiring of machine operators from Thailand.
The company repatriated the Thais after government intervention.