Tea Association of Malawi (Taml) and the Plantations and Agriculture Workers Union (Pawu) have signed a new collective bargaining agreement that has pushed up the minimum wage in the tea industry to K1 618 per day.
This means that the minimum wage has climbed from K1 586 per day or K44 408 per month from K1 618 per day or K45 304 per month.
The tea industry’s new minimum wage is just K5 000 shy of government’s proposed minimum wage of K50 000 per month, which also means that the industry has been paying above the current minimum wage of K35 000 or K1 250 per day.
In an interview in Blantyre on Thursday after signing the agreement, Taml chairperson Sangwani Hara said discussions on raising the minimum wage have been ongoing, resulting in the signing of the collective bargaining agreement.
He said: “This is a very difficult time. There is Covid-19 and climate change issues which affected our production levels for both tea and macadamia nuts.
“The global tea prices were also depressed this year. These factors meant that it was difficult for business to make money to offer normal wages we would have given in a normal year.”
On his part, Pawu president Gracian Khembo said they have agreed to the new minimum wage while waiting for government’s proposed threshold of K50 000 per month.
“Money is never enough, so we can’t say we are satisfied as such, but as a starting point, we have something which our members are going to benefit from,” he said.
But Khembo said challenges in the tea industry are ongoing, citing short-term contracts given to tea pluckers.
“Most of the members who are tea pluckers are subjected to short-term contracts whereby they work for a few months and are laid off and re-engaged after some months. That to me is a challenge,” he said.
At a meeting last month with Minister of Labour Ken Kandodo, Taml said it could not afford to pay its staff the proposed minimum wage of K50 000 per month, arguing the move could lead to shutdown of operations and the laying off of workers in the industry.
In an earlier interview, Kandodo said his ministry is mandated to consult employers and workers through their affiliate bodies and that discussions to raise the minimum wage are still ongoing.
In the past four years, the tea industry has raised the minimum wage by about 283 percent from K560 in 2015 to K1 586 per day, and now the wage has gone up to K1 618 per day.
The tea industry employs about 60 000 people and contributes roughly 11 percent to gross domestic product.