Industrial strikes have rocked Malawi quite often since the restoration of multi-party politics in 1993.
Industrial strikes were unthinkable due to the dictatorial rule of founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda and Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Kamuzu regarded industrial action as intolerable acts of subversion.
Malawians worked in conditions they could not protest loudly even in their blankets.
Today, strikes are part of our life and not newsworthy.
Most of them go on until the strikers give up.
There are some professionals who hardly go on a strike: lawyers, accountants and engineers.
When was the last time you heard such professionals marching against unfair pay?
I cannot recall any.
The reason is simple: They are in high demand and better remunerated.
Take lawyers for example. Government is struggling to recruit adequate legal minds for the Attorney General Chambers, Legal Aid Bureau and Anti-Corruption Bureau. It cannot maintain the few it has.
The private sector is offering the lawyers perks that the government is failing to beat. This is why government struggles to get the best brains from the law school.
The influx of private law firms has made it even worse.
Some lawyers are simply opting to establish their own companies.
This is the reason why skilful professionals do not go on industrial strike. If you cannot meet their demands, they simply quit and take their skills where there are good perks.
As such, low-paying public institutions keep losing their best personnel until they become competitive.
This is my general observation, a hypothesis that any economist can help me to understand.
If there is an influx of private universities, as we have witnessed, is it not automatic that they would attract the best lecturers from public universities with their decent perks?
As is the case as with the other elite professions, would you then witness lecturers in public universities going on strike over pay?
Would they not simply quit the low-paying job for the higher-paying universities as the other professionals are doing?
This exodus would compel public universities to revise the perks to compete with the private universities.
Surely, this seems to be a better way to force the State-run universities to improve the perks than these endless strikes.
Should we conclude that the country has an abundance of university lecturers that the private sector gets them easily?
Maybe private universities are paying peanuts that make lecturers in public universities stick with the devil they know.
If this is the case, public universities will remain the ‘home of industrial strikes’.
But this tag will never improve quality of higher education in the country.
As lawyers, accountants and others elite professionals are quitting the public sector because of poor pay, why not the lecturers?
It is the only way public universities will become competitive.
If the private universities are paying less than public universities, then pa Malawi pano tikudyetsana agalu!
It is no surprise some of the private universities have lecturers who cannot be employed in public universities.
Sometimes you do not fight for better perks because you are not getting a lot of money but you are in a job that is way higher than your abilities and credentials.
The best you can do is to keep quite.
Mine may be a wrong conclusion, but I do not see why a lecturer would go on an industrial strike when he can take his skill to a better-paying university.
This might be the reason: private universities are paying their academic staff salaries that cannot attract those vying for higher perks in public institutions.