Truck Drivers Association of Malawi alongside Professional Drivers Union of Malawi have called off their strike on its second day following assurances from Ministry of Transport and Public Works to address their grievances.
In separate interviews last evening, the union’s human resources manager McDonald Chilanga and the association’s secretary Francis Mkandawire confirmed the suspension pending the outcome of an inter-ministry meeting.
Ministry of Transport and Public Works spokesperson Andrew Nthiko also confirmed that ministry officials met representatives of the striking drivers in Lilongwe yesterday and agreed to call off the strike.
He said the ministry will engage relevant ministries as some of the grievances were beyond the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transport and Public Works.
Said Nthiko: “We met the drivers and we have heard their grievances, but since their grievances concern different ministries, we will have inter-ministry meeting on Wednesday next week to discuss their concerns. So, we have agreed that they should call off the strike.”
The drivers, both local and international who transport dry and liquid cargo, parked their trucks on Tuesday demanding government’s intervention in the release of their colleague, Kennedy Njewa of Zagaf Transport, currently at Changala Prison in Mozambique for allegedly overturning a fuel tanker in that country.
The drivers are also demanding salary increment, introduction of risk allowance, job security, reduction of professional driving permits fees and reduction in passport fees.
On the case of Njewa, the drivers said he was arrested in Malawi and was acquitted by the Mwanza Magistrate’s Court only to be taken to Mozambique by police.
Said Chilanga: “Instead of releasing him after his acquittal, police took him to a police cell and the same night of 30th April, he was taken across to Mozambique.”
In Blantyre, the drivers parked about 120 trucks at Ngumbe along the M1. The drivers were seen hoisting placards while Police Mobile Force officers in armoured vehicle monitored the situation.
At Lunzu, eight kilometres from Ngumbe, about 100 more trucks were parked as part of the strike.
The union’s patrol vehicle was also deployed to detain any truck found operating.
In an interview before the drivers called off the strike, Petroleum Importers Limited general manager Martin Msimuko feared that if the strike continued the country would have faced fuel shortage.
He said: “Our customers are having dry out because fuel cannot be delivered since Tuesday.”
In Lilongwe, Professional Drivers Association of Malawi treasurer Chindikani Siyame said the strike affected the economy because no goods were being delivered.
He said government had itself to blame for allegedly ignoring the grievances of truck drivers.
“Trucks carrying vital commodities and those that were on the way to load goods cannot deliver goods. That will affect the availability of commodities,” said Siyame.
During a similar strike that paralysed the economy last year, government officials promised to address the grievances.
Besides poor working conditions, the drivers also protested against the award of haulage contracts to foreign transporters.
Said Siyame: “If you check tankers that carry fuel, you will notice that they are Tanzanian registered. This is our fuel that we can also carry. These foreigners benefit from our resources, but they do not pay tax. Even the food and water they carry is rom Tanzania. The only thing they buy here is airtime.”
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera warned the drivers against forcing other truck drivers to join the strike.
He said it was unfortunate that some drivers who are not members of the Professional Drivers Association of Malawi were being forced to park their vehicles.
In Mzuzu, police fired tear gas to disperse truck drivers who gathered at a parking bay in Luwinga Industrial Area as part of their ongoing strike.
Mzuzu Police Station spokesperson Paul Tembo said the truck drivers were dispersed because they were disrupting traffic operations.
“We cannot just watch things going out of hand. We dispersed them because they were disturbing other road users,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the truck drivers, Madalitso Chilenje said they were surprised with the conduct of the police, describing it as inhumane.
Additional reporting by PLEDGE JALI, Staff Reporter