Just as Malawi’s legislators were about to go into day two of their mid-term budget review meeting, the country’s parliamentary staff decided to keep their threats a reality and started an indefinite industrial strike with an ultimatum that they will only go back to their offices once their grievances are sorted out.
The parliamentary staff has been fighting government over a decision to cut off their supposed annual increment to almost 9% from 24% in a drive that is intended to harmonise civil service salaries.
Parliamentary staff are among the highly paid in the country and when government made a 24% increment for its entire staff it decided to slash the percentages for those regarded as well off so that they should be at par with low paid sectors.
There was drama at parliament Tuesday morning as the staff instead of going to their posts they resorted to playing football, having drinks and listening and dancing to loud music outside the parliament building in the capital Lilongwe.
Most of them dressed in red carried placards which expressed their anger with one of the placard reading “Tapilira kokwanira” (We have persevered enough).
The House is traditionally presided over by the Speaker or one of his deputies and these officials are ushered into the chamber by a Sergeant At Arms and normally start morning business at 9.30.
However, by that time all the Speakers and the Clerk of Parliament, the most senior parliamentary staff, were still in their offices while the Sergeant At Arms was seen playing soccer with fellow members of staff.
Some members of support staff were also playing football.
Chairperson of the Parliament Staff Union Leonard Tilingamawa said: “We have been discussing with the government for a long time, but without success.”
One of the support staff told Nyasa Times:” Government approved K24 million loans for parliament and just recently, we have seen members of parliament, clerk of parliament, Speaker and his deputies getting hefty increment, so what’s wrong with us,”
Parliamentary Public Relation Officer Lenard Mengezi said Parliamentary Service Commission which is guided by the Parliamentary Service Act already approved the 24 percent hike but the executive has not been implementing the hike.
As Nyasa Times reporters were at the parliament building, several members of parliament were just looking on what was going on with many conspicuously surprised.
Speaker of the National Assembly Richard Msowoya confirmed that the strike will affect the agenda in the parliament which resumed Monday for mid-year budget review.
Msowoya urged the executive who controls the purse to come in quickly and resolve the strike.
“We are doing everything possible to the resolve the strike alongside the executive. W e are hoping the issue will be resolved,” said Msowoya.
According to the schedule for mid-term budget review meeting, the government has lined up seven bills including the minimum marriage age and human trafficking bills, a ministerial statement on the disasters which have hit most parts of the country and a mid-year budget review statement scheduled for Friday, February. —Additional reporting by Alfred Chauwa, Nyasa TimesFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :