Employers’ body, Undule suspect politics in truck drivers’ sit-in

Employers Consultative Association of Malawi (ECAM) has questioned the motive behind an impending strike by Professional Drivers Union of Malawi (PDUM) over unrevised travel allowances.

PDUM has called for nationwide strike on 19 September 2022 reportedly because the government has not increased their salaries and external travel allowances.

The union has advised its member drivers to conduct some related protest action, including but not limited to go-slow convoys, roadblocks, and gatherings near government buildings in major cities.

George Khaki

But ECAM Executive Director George Khaki has chided the union for dragging the government into the matter, arguing matters of wages and remuneration are contractual obligations between an employer and employee.

“In this instance, the government is not the employer for truck drivers and it is therefore misplaced that the drivers are proceeding on strike for failure by the government to adjust the drivers’ remuneration. The strike should be against their employers,” Khaki said in an interview on Saturday.

Khaki further stated that the Labour Relations Act provides that where there is a dispute between an employer and workers, the matter should be referred for conciliation.

He said the way the proposed strike action is being presented suggests that no conciliation has been undertaken.

“This further suggests that appropriate notice has not been given to proceed on strike,” he said.

The association has since written to Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Labour, Wezi Kayira, urging the government to ensure that the impending strike by truck drivers is in line with the Labour Relations Act (1996) and the Malawi Constitution.

In the letter, Khaki brings to the attention of authorities at the Capital Hill the previous strike union leaders were forcing other truck drivers not to work up to the extent of damaging the trucks of the drivers that were not willing to participate in the “strike”.

“The tone of the reports that we have come across indicate that this is set to be repeated. While the damage of property is criminal, forcing other people to participate in the strike action is not within the spirit of Section 31 (2) of the Constitution.

“In the past, drivers belonging to our member companies were forced not to proceed on assigned duties despite the fact that the drivers had no issues with their employers. In the process our members incurred huge losses on matters that did not concern them,” reads part of the letter, which has been copied to the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU).

Khaki further said ECAM is also concerned that the intended actions by the truck drivers are coming at a time when the industry is struggling due to challenges in energy and fuel supplies. He warned that this will further impact on the constrained space that the industry is operating in.

“This is likely to lead to the industry stopping operations and laying off workers to avoid incurring further losses. ECAM therefore urges government to ensure that the intended strike by truck drivers is done within the provisions of the Labour Relations Act. Should the strike not be in line with the laws of the country, appropriate action should be taken.

“ECAM further urges government to ensure that appropriate security is provided to protect property of parties not taking part in the strike. ECAM looks forward to the speedy resolution of the matters at hand and stands by to assist in the stalemate within the provisions of the Labour Relations Act and its mandate,” thus concludes the letter.

Undule Mwakasungula

In a separate interview, Governance and Human Rights Expert Undule Mwakasungula described the call by PRODUM for a nationwide as political aimed at using the fuel crisis to frustrate government efforts in stabilizing the crisis; hence, make government look a failure.

Mwakasungula said it is surprising that the call for the strike is coming just few days after former Professor President Peter Mutharika called for the incumbent President Dr. Lazuras Chakwera to resign and call for a caretaker government. With all these developments, many might think these moves are aimed at inciting Malawians to push government out.

“It is also surprising that other drivers from the Southern Africa Development Community are in supportive to this call by PRODUM. This must be more worrisome and a big concern to us a country. The involvement of other players in the SADC region will be unfortunate as it might be viewed as a conspiracy to fuel crisis in Malawi and this is against the SADC principles. Therefore, it is important for the government to re-engage even beyond our borders to ease this crisis,” he said.

“Whatever the scenario, what is key is for PRODUM and government to re – engage for a compromise. This is not the time to add more challenges to the fuel crisis, but for the union and all stakeholders involved contribute to the easing of the crisis.

“Whoever is further contributing to the crisis must be viewed as not wishing this country well. PRODUM and government must sacrifice and compromise for the well- being of Malawians,” added Mwakasungula.

There was no immediate comment from Kayira and the union leadership.

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