About 250 United Nations (UN) local staff in Malawi on Tuesday started a sit-in in Lilongwe, demanding a time-bound pegging of local staff salaries to the dollar at present rates or effect a 90 percent average increase in basic salaries.
The kwacha has lost its value by 140 percent from K167 to K420 to the dollar, but local UN staff salaries have remained fixed at the pre-May 2012 devaluation rate of K167 to the dollar. On the other hand, salaries for the UN system’s international staff working in the country have been adjusted upwards.
Irked, by this, the UN local staff have since been engaged in discussions with the UN country team (UNCT) and last month wrote a petition, asking for a lasting solution as food and commodity prices continue to soar and the kwacha continues to lose its value against major currencies.
They also accuse the UNCT of applying double standards. They argue that their management has allowed to peg the kwacha to the current dollar rate on out of station allowances (DSA) only because they directly benefit from this when they go on field visits.
However, their efforts have hit a snag as the Office of the Human Resource Management (OHRM) in New York says it cannot meet either one of the two conditions proposed by the staff, forcing the UN local staff to go on a sit-in until their demands are met.
“When the issue was twice presented to the OHRM, the answer has remained no. We have no option but to stage the sit-in to communicate our dissatisfaction as we are frustrated,” said UN local staff chairperson Hudson Kuphanga.
An internal memo from UN acting resident coordinator Mahimbo Mdoe to the OHRM Robert Smith dated April 4 2013, authenticates discussions that have been held at both local and international level, as well as indicating suggestions made by the local authorities on the matter.
However, in a separate interview, while acknowledging that Malawi has been going through economic hardships and the UN has been affected, Mdoe said the sit-in is illegal.
“Decisions on changes in salaries are not made at the local level and we have reassured staff that steps are being taken to try resolve the situation,” explained Mdeo.