Malawi civil servants strike paralyses govt, officials call for talks

Malawi Government on Wednesday invited the Civil Servants Trade Union (CSTU) committee to round table discussions after civil servants brought government business to a halt on Wednesday, as they staged a walkout to demand higher wages.

Workers in and around Lilongwe’s Capital Hill – home to the presidency and over 20 ministries blocked entrances to office compounds and brandished placards and tree branches to indicate that they were not at work for good reasons.

The strikers are demanding a salary review, just months after being granted a 21% pay hike.

Some workers in the 170, 000-strong civil service in Malawi are paid an average monthly wage of $100 with the government relying on donor support to meet 40 percent of its budget.

CSTU Secretary General Pontius Kalichero told reporters that gGovernment, through Public Services Management, had summoned CSTU executive committee to the round table talks and that the outcome of the meeting would be known on Thursday.

President of CSTU  Elia Kamphinda Banda told the civil servants who gathered in hundreds that they should continue with the ‘stay away’ while the executive committee attended the meeting with government.

Civil Servants marching around Capital Hill.
Civil Servants marching around Capital Hill.
Civil servants go office by office to make their voice heard by top govefnment officials
Civil servants go office by office to make their voice heard by top govefnment officials
Civil Servants  Trade Union President Elia Kamphinda Banda addressing civil servants at Capital Hill
Civil Servants Trade Union President Elia Kamphinda Banda addressing civil servants at Capital Hill

He advised the Union members that it was only the CSTU which was mandated to enlighten the crowd on the way forward after the meeting.

“I would like to emphasize that it is only CSTU executive that you should all look up to as regards the way forward on the matter and nobody should tell you what to do next,” said Kamphinda, adding, “Meanwhile, we shall continue gathering here as planned and we shall do so until we get what we are demanding.”

Kamphinda, who on Wednesday used a megaphone to be heard by the growing crowd, further directed that the civil servants should conduct a ‘door to door’ march and flush out some employees who were still working within the Capital Hill so that they should join the ‘stay away’.

Said the CSTU chair: “The fight is for all of us, civil servants, and we are supposed to stand united; we cannot expect our goals to be  met when we take separate ways.

“As such, you should go building by building and flush them out, this procedure is within the law and it is called ‘picketing’.”

The civil servants, thus, took to the ministerial offices and peacefully persuaded those who were in the office to come out and join the ‘stay away’.

Before he left for the meeting, the CSTU President announced that the police had summoned him where he said they “commended the committee (CSTU) for peaceful ‘demonstrations’ on Tuesday.”

He therefore called upon all civil servants to ‘stay away’ within the agreed understanding of the exercise and that they should not incite violence in any way whatsoever.

However, the CSTU president warned that while it is the Union’s wish to restrict the ‘stay away’ to the Capital Hill at the meatime, they would march the streets of the capital should the civil servants’ demands remain unmet by Friday.

Meanwhile unionists are demanding that workers in hospitals and other essential services should join the strike action to make it possible for “ordinary people to start feeling the pinch”

The government called on strikers to return to work and so further talks can be held.

The state is “fully committed” to reaching a “mutually satisfactory resolution” to the crisis, according to McPhail Magwira, an Education Ministry official who heads up the state’s negotiating team.

Since President Joyce Banda assumed power following the death of Bingu Wa Mutharika last year, a series of austerity programmes have been introduced to improve the country’s economy which was in dire straits after Mutharika had alienated international donors with his hard-line policies.

He died last year of a heart attack.—(Additional reporting by Malawi News Agency)

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