The University of Malawi (Unima) Council has rebuffed a 30 percent pay hike request from lecturers at the Polytechnic, one of the institution’s four constituent colleges, saying effecting the raise would bloat the budget.
While pleading with all concerned staff at the Polytechnic, who downed their tools last Monday, to return to work immediately and give dialogue a chance, the council, in a statement, said the proposed salary increment would raise the wage bill suspending most operations of the university.
The Unima Council said it believes the matter has reached a point where an arbitrator should facilitate discussion.
The council said the 2015/16 budget for Unima included approximately K21 billion (about $30.7million) from government subvention and about K13 billion from the institution’s own-generated income. It said out of the K21 billion, K1 billion was designated to improving the university’s infrastructure through rehabilitation and maintenance.
Reads the statement in part: “The rehabilitation and maintenance works are currently underway in all the colleges of the university. A 30 percent salary increment would raise a wage bill by about K6 billion, hence, exceeding the K21 billion allocation and suspending most operations of the university.
“Even so, such a demand is being made when government is struggling to meet basic national needs.”
According to the statement, the council said it was sympathetic to the current economic challenges, the fiscal discipline being called for and was not surprised that strict austerity expenditure was being exacted on all government subvented institutions as noted in the Mid-year Budget Review Meeting of Parliament earlier this month.
The council has since instructed management at the Polytechnic to note all staff who do not return to work by Wednesday. The council says it is willing to continue engaging all staff to come up with medium and long-term solutions to the challenges faced by staff.
The Polytechnic lecturers withdrew their teaching services from Monday last week because they did not get any communication or feedback from their employer, the Unima Council, on their demands for salary adjustment.
The withdrawal was done after union and welfare committees at the Polytechnic gave their employer an ultimatum to effect a 30 percent salary increment by 5pm on March 21 2016.
The strike started barely a week after the college’s opening for the second semester. The Polytechnic is currently hosting two cohorts of first year intakes to mitigate its one year delay in the academic calendar.
Meanwhile, the Polytechnic Students Union (PSU) last week asked its members to be calm and not to get involved in the stand-off between the lecturers and the Unima Council.
In January last year, the Polytechnic’s opening for the second semester was also postponed to an unknown date after the lecturers withdrew their services demanding a pay rise and arrears. The lecturers refused a 36 percent offer on condition that arrears are guaranteed.
The lecturers, together with their counterparts at Chancellor College (Chanco), made headlines in 2012 when they demanded a 113 percent salary increment. Government offered them a 25 percent increase which only Chanco lecturers accepted. It took the Polytechnic lecturers about six weeks of striking to finally accept the offer after negotiations were completed.
According to Unima Council, the institution has increased university staff salaries four times in the past four years as follows: 10 percent increment was effected in 2011/12; 30 percent in 2012/13; 45 percent in 2013/14; and 33.3 percent in 2014/15.
Unima, founded in 1965, is the oldest of the country’s four functional public universities and oldest founded in 1965. The others are Mzuzu University (Mzuni), Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) and Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must).
Unima has four constituent colleges: Chancellor College in Zomba, the Polytechnic in Blantyre, Kamuzu College of Nursing (with campuses in Blantyre and Lilongwe) and College of Medicine which also has campuses in Blantyre and Lilongwe. n