Lawyers working in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs have threatened to go on strike if government fails to review some conditions of service.
The demand comes at a time when Judicial support staff are on strike, pressing for their conditions of service to be approved by Parliament as is the case with judicial officers, notably magistrates and judges.
The support staff are also demanding the resignation of Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda and registrar of the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal Agnes Patemba for allegedly failing to address their grievances.
In a petition we have seen, addressed to the Solicitor General (SG) Gertrude Hiwa, the government lawyers are demanding the adjustment of non-practising allowance (NPA), which they receive as a recompense for not practising private legal work, from K150 000 to K350 000.
The lawyers have given government 21 days to act.
The lawyers are also demanding the introduction of a K300 000 housing allowance, introduction of a car loan and medical schemes, introduction of risk allowance and adjustment of monthly airtime allocation, currently at K15 000.
The State advocates, who are about 60 in number, claim that their demands are genuine as they sometimes handle sensitive court cases, which endanger their lives.
Reads, in part, the petition date March 25 2019: “Madam Solicitor General, as lawyers in the Civil Service, sometimes we handle very sensitive cases yet we can easily be targeted as we do not have security both at home and on our way home. Our homes, as already said, are in suburbs where security is compromised. We put our lives at risk for the sake of government’s interest. As such, we feel that we should be entitled to Risk allowance”.
But two months after presenting the petition, the lawyers have not received any response from the SG, a development that compelled them to write a follow up letter on May 8, which, again, she did not respond to.
The SG’s silence on the matter angered the lawyers, who on July 11, wrote another follow up letter and booked an appointment to meet Hiwa, who is also the ministry’s Principal Secretary to discuss matters in the petition.
On the second follow up letter, the lawyers gave government 21 days to respond to the petition and threatened to take an industrial action on expiry of the 21 days.
Reads the reminder letter, in part: “Kindly refer to the petition dated March 25 2019 and the follow up letter dated May 8 2019 to which we have had no formal response. We would like to book an appointment with you, preferably within seven days from the date of this letter, to discuss matters pertaining to the petition and what has of the petition.transpired since the submission
“In the unlikely event that our proposed meeting does not take place or that there is still no meaningful resolution to all the concerns raised in the petition, we will be left with no option but to take an industrial action within 21 days from the date of this letter”.
The ministry’s spokesperson Pilirani Masanjala, in an e-mail response on Tuesday, confirmed that the Office of the Solicitor General received a petition and a follow-up letter from the Ministry of Justice lawyers.
He backed the petitioners, saying: “The matters raised in the petition are genuine and warranted in light of the nature of their job”.
Said Masanjala: “The Office of the Solicitor General received a petition from the Ministry of Justice lawyers dated May 25 and the follow-up letter dated July 11. Management has since been working with the relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) that can assist with addressing the matters raised by the lawyers.
“Management is, therefore, taking the demands of the lawyers seriously and believes the matters will be resolved amicably without reaching the extent that the lawyers proceed with an industrial action”.
In an interview on Monday, one of the State advocates, who spoke on condition of anonymity, claimed that their conditions of service were last reviewed in 2010 and they will not reverse their plan to down tools if government fails to address their concerns within the 21 days—which ends on August 2.
Commenting on the petition by government lawyers, in an interview on Wednesday, MLS honorary secretary Martha Kaukonde observed that in every contract, the parties have freedom to agree on terms and renegotiate them at any point the contract subsists. She, however, expressed optimism that the two sides will amicably discuss the issue and come up with a perfect solution that will not necessitate an industrial action.