CHRR fears Tonse Alliance Govt bent on thwarting workers’ rights through proposed amendments to Labour Relations Act

Malawi’s one of the longest human rights watchdogs, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), has expressed fear that the proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act could result into violation of workers’ rights.

Today in Parliament, the Deputy Minister of Labour, Vera Kamtukule, presented the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill, which, among others, restricts workers’ right to industrial strikes.

Kamtukule argued that while it is the right of employee to stage a strike, there is need to strike a balance on the right to strike and need to produce in an economy.

The Bill espouses that the employer must be given powers to deduct wages of an employer on strike, whether it is illegal or not.

Vera Kamtukule’s bill restricts workers rights

She also wants the court to categorize essential services that would not be allowed to go for a strike or lockdown.

Kamtukule also said the industrial court has over 5, 000 unresolved cases because of absence of employer or employee as panellists in an industrial matter.

But in a statement issued a few hours about the presentation of the Bill in the National Assembly, CHRR executive director Michael Kaiyatsa said there is no justification for removing the current protections for employees who participate in industrial action or strike.

Kaiyatsa said the proposed amendments pose serious threat to workers’ rights, including the right to take industrial action, which is enshrined in Section 31 of the Republican Constitution of Malawi.

He warned the Tonse Alliance-led administration against thwarting the rights of workers.

“CHRR is particularly concerned about the proposed section 2 (4) of the Labour Relations Act amendment bill, which states that ‘An employee shall not be entitled to receive wages for the period he is absent from work due to participation in a strike’. This amendment amounts to state sanctioning the victimization of employees who participate in a strike. We urge the Tonse Government to respect the prescriptions of the Constitution of the Malawi, which is the supreme law of the land, and to not bow down to the self–serving interests of some employers,” he said.

Kaiyatsa further argued that the amendment defeats the purpose of section 31 (4) of the Constitution of Malawi, which was introduced specifically to provide for the right of employees to withdraw labour if they have grievances against the employer.

He fears that by giving employers vast powers to withhold employees’ wages at will, the proposed amendments will be open to abuse by employers.

“CHRR also notes that the proposed reforms are wholly pro-employer and are at the expense of the rights of employees. Employees have far less bargaining power than employers have and should, therefore, be given additional protections. The proposed amendments, however, further tip the balance of power in favour of employers, which is unacceptable. CHRR urges the Government to take necessary action to come up with legislation that promotes the interests of employers without violating workers’ rights,” he said.

CHRR has also questioned the government decision to introduce a bill without consulting relevant stakeholders.

The human rights watchdog has urged the government to uphold the country’s international commitments and encourage engagement in effective social dialogue. Malawi is a signatory to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention 144, which calls for tripartite consultations among government, employers and workers.

The new ILO Declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1998, declares that all “Members, even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, have an obligation, arising from the very fact of membership in the Organization, to respect, to promote and to realize, in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution, the principles concerning the fundamental rights…”, which include freedom of association.

Against this background, CHRR has recommended that the Labour Relations Act (Amendment Bill), 2021 be immediately withdrawn pending consultations.

“CHRR also recommends that the proposed section 2(4) of the Labour Relations Act amendment bill, which allows an employer to withhold wages of an employee who participates in a strike, be scrapped off. Such an amendment is dangerous as it will give employers an unbridled hand to withhold employees’ wages with impunity. That the Ministry of Labour conduct countrywide consultations to seek views of relevant stakeholders on the proposed amendments,” concludes Kaiyatsa in the statement.

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Gas Machine Head
Gas Machine Head
2 years ago

Tonse Alliance, if you want to be voted out of power in 2025, then endorse this bill. Mark my words

Chiko vs Chikho
2 years ago

Malawi as a will never develop and investors will be scared if the thinking like that of human rights groups continued. Where would an employee get money if production ceased? We copied democracy from other countries. Have we read or seen how other countries manage strikes. The Trade Unions take responsibility. The striking workers are not fired. In Malawi we want employees who are not working to be paid. What the hell is this? Amnesty International cannot fund such human rights groups.

2 years ago

They should just say they are targeting teachers, and they think the law will only apply the teachers. Let the government explain comparatively which government has that law and how the law was framed. In Malawi the government seems to have a lot of unitary power over its employees. It does things anyhow without even explaining to the employees. For instance, no payslips are given but yet deducting money which the employee does not know how it came about. For instance, I heard a nurse complaining in Thyolo district that since last year money is being deducted from the salary… Read more »

2 years ago

Bill iyi ilibwino chifukwa Amalawi anaoowerpo ulesi samagwira ntchito modzipereka kutha mangila ku strike. Tikinawo aziphunzitsi pa sukulu yathu kungova kudzakhala strike iwo amakhalilatu osabwera kusukulu.

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