Blantyre City Council employees threaten strike action: Want 61% pay hike

Employees of Blantyre City Council (BCC) are set to go on industrial action starting next week Tuesday to force management to increase their salaries by 61 percent, Nyasa Times understands.

Last month, Malawi Government offered a 61percent pay hike for the lowest paid civil servants and a five percent rise for high earners effective January 1, 2013 after a two week industrial action that paralysed its business.

And the BCC strike comes less than six months after they held another to force management to increase their pay in line with the rising costs of basic needs.

The employees told Nyasa Times they were set to down tools upon return from Easter holiday if they do not get feedback from management by today, Thursday, March 28th.

Nandolo: Meeting government officials
Nandolo: Meeting government officials

The workers have vowed not to bow down to pleas from management (to call off) or get intimidated by the security arrangements put in place by management, Trade Union leaders and other security agents.

During the previous strike an employee from the Engineering Department was dismissed on suspicion that he was one of the strike’s instigators.

The workers were promised a 30 percent hike but sources told Nyasa Times that government warned management against implementing it because its coffers were in bad shape and going ahead with the arrangement would have resulted in a massive financial pruning. Instead they were only given 15 percent.

And last Monday, March 24, BCC employees issued an anonymous four-day ultimatum to management which was placed in various establishments of the council like markets, clinics, works depots, ginnery corner and civic centre offices.

In the ultimatum, the employees gave management up to March 28 (today) to confirm that they would effect a 61 percent pay hike or come April 2, they would go on a massive industrial action deemed as ‘fools’ strike.

In part the notice, which Nyasa Times has seen, reads: “Kantini imene amalowa ogwira ntchito m’boma ndi makantini omwe nafe timalowanso choncho nafe tikufuna kutionjezera malipiro ndi 61 percent ndipo tikufuna kuti mutiuze pasanafike pa 28th March apo bii pa 2nd April tizapanga strike.” (We buy from the same shops where civil servants go as such we also want 61% pay increase and if you don’t give us feedback by 28th March we will go on strike on 2nd April).

Strategists of the strike met on Wednesday afternoon to plan and among other things, they looked at the events that have unfolded since their ultimatum was issued.

“They have fooled us for long and this time around we want to unveil who the real fool is. We have set April 2 because it will be a day after the Fools day which comes on April 1.

“We cannot stage the strike on April 1 because it will be a public holiday and experience has shown that strikes do not work on public holidays,” said the source.

On Tuesday BCC (municipal) trade union leaders summoned their stewards (section representatives) where they told them to advise their sections’ colleagues that the planned strike was illegal.

And on Wednesday the acting Director of Health, Semden Seunda, was taken to task by management to ensure that the strike is diffused by all means because it is mostly ignited by workers from his department, most of whom are the lowest paid and work in very harsh conditions.

Due to pressure from management, Seunda, accompanied by several supervisors from his department, went around all works’ depots where workers assembled to plead with them not to go on strike.

One of the organisers told Nyasa Times they have been tipped that the Director of Administrative Services Dr Alfred Chanza has since organized a hit squad to cramp on anyone who will be found pasting posters or notices about the strike during the Easter holiday.

“We are aware that security agents are moving with the police at night patrolling the places [where notices are pasted] but that does not scare us. They are human beings like ourselves and our suffering is the same and we are just wondering with their actions,” said the source.

But a source within the Treasury Department disclosed that if the increment is implemented management will do so out of fear and not in line with income flows of the scandal and corrupt-hit council.

“The council is in a serious financial mess. For instance, during the past six months the junior staff members have been paid through overdrafts, and their last month’s salary was paid on 8th of March because there was no money.

“Things are not healthy, Nandolo [CEO] has completely ruined the once mighty public institution and if the pay hike is implemented it will be scandalous,” said the source.

He added: “The situation was exacerbated by the fact that between July and December 2012, the council only managed to collect 29 percent of its total projected revenue due to massive corruption and capacity.”

Meanwhile, the council’s Chief Executive Officer, Emmanuel Ted Nandolo and Human Resource Manager Alfred Nyengo on Wednesday travelled to Lilongwe to meet Local Government ministry’s Principal Secretary, Kester Kaphaizi, over the matter.

But the aggrieved staff members feel the arrangement (to travel to Lilongwe) is a mere tactic to buy time considering that management is also failing to meet the workers face to face but delegate its responsibility to the union which has further assigned the stewards.

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