Malawi gov’t withdraws tenancy labour bill

Malawi government which for the past 14 years has not been forthcoming on the enactment of the Tenancy Labour Act has finally come in the open declaring that it is not interested to bring into Parliament the Bill which one of its objectives is to free thousands of suffering estate tenants who are spread across the country.

Ministry of Labour officials two week ago are said to have told tobacco industry stakeholders including International Labour Organisation (ILO) representatives that government has actually withdrawn the Bill.

Ironically, government’s position, comes barely days after United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter made a recommendation that the Bill be tabled in the upcoming meeting of Parliament.

De Schutter was in the country from July 12 to 22 on an assessment mission of the food security situation in the country and faulted the tenancy system whose condition he described as extremely precarious, as one of the contributors to food problems in the country.

Labour Minister Makangala and Principal Secretary James Kalirangwe confirmed and justified government's position
Labour Minister Makangala and Principal Secretary James Kalirangwe confirmed and justified government’s position

He said the Bill would address rights of tobacco tenants workers.

Minister of Labour Eunice Makangala has since confirmed the latest government position but justified it, saying that her ministry realized that some provisions were not protecting the tenants.

However, she could not say when the Bill will be ready again to be brought to Cabinet, where it has been since 2010.

“As a unionist myself I would have loved if the Bill was tabled in Parliament but we have to first iron out the issues that are there,” said Makangala.

She said the way forward before any further movement on the Bill is for her ministry has to sit down with other stakeholders such as the Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU) and Employers’ Consultative Association of Malawi (Ecam),” said Makangala.

According to minutes of the meeting that Nyasa Times has seen, the meeting held on July 25, 2013 at ILO offices in Lilongwe had among several participants ILO representative from Geneva Colin Fenwick who was specifically in the country on a mission to see how ILO could assist to fanalise the Bill.

Other members in the meeting also included representatives from Ministry of Labour officials including two of its Principle Secretaries James Kalirangwe and Wezie Kayira; the Tobacco Tenants and Allied Workers Union (TOTAWUM); Ecam; tobacco buyers; Ministry of Justice; Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama); Centre for Social Concern (CFSC); and several other civil society organizations.

The minutes indicate that ministry of labour officials including the two Principle Secretaries having told the meeting that government has withdrawn the Bill and will no longer present it to Parliament as earlier planned.

In separate interviews CFSC Executive Director Father Jos Kuppens and TOTAWUN Secretary General Raphael Sandramu expressed concerns with government’s position.

Kuppens said the statements by the labour officials did not give an indication that there would be a possibility of bringing it back but that it was rather a complete withdrawal.

“It was much stronger than that (about some sections not protecting tenants). What they said is that they are not going to present it, full stop. The message which most of us got, I was there too, is that the Bill has been withdrawn,” said Father Kuppens.

Chief Techinical Officer in the country Khalid Hassam said government’s position meant that there was need for ‘more thinking’ before the Bill is presented to Parliament and not a total withdrew of the Bill.

The Tenancy Labour Bill was first drafted in 1995 and redrafted in 2005 but since then it has not shown any progress. It was only in November 2010 and following pressure from stakeholders that the Bill was presented to Cabinet, where it has been stuck since then.

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