Mota Engil starts repatriating Thai casual labourers from Malawi

After days of long-drawn-out confrontation between management and workers of Mota Engil, the Portuguese construction company has finally started repatriating Thai nationals as per demands by disgruntled Malawian employees.

A few weeks ago, construction work of the US$1 billion Kachaso to Nkaya Railway line which passes through Malawi’s southern district of Neno came to a standstill after the workers downed tools demanding, among others, the removal of Thai casual labourers.

Life only returned to full element after the construction company reached an agreement with the workers union to repatriate the Thai nationals and also increase their salaries by 30 percent.

“They started repatriating them a few days ago. First, it was a group of over 40 that had no any special skills required at the company other than doing casual work,” a Mota Engil employee said.

Malawian workers at Mota-Engil $1 billion rail project
Malawian workers at Mota-Engil $1 billion rail project

He added: “Currently, few skilled Thai nationals are working while most of them are just waiting for their repatriation turn.”

The company’s Contract Manager, Joao Neto, confirmed the company started the repatriation exercise early July but refused to divulge more information.

Statistics from Mota Engil indicated that about 300 people from Vinc Replacement in Thailand arrived in Malawi early June as part of the company’s acceleration on the works to achieve the milestone set for the project’s completion.

The construction company was reportedly paying the Thai casual labourers a whopping US$1300 (over K470 000) a month with a daily allowance of K8 000 for accommodation at the expense of Malawian workers whose majority were getting less than K20 000 a month.

The project belongs to Vale and it involves the construction of a railway line from Moatze in Mozambique to join the existing line at Nkaya.

Vale engaged two other companies- Mota Engil of Portugal as contractor and SRK of South Africa as consultant- and they all brought with them many foreigners whose conditions of service like salaries and fringe benefits are far much beyond those of Malawians.

According to the Malawi Government, once the railway line is up and running, the Malawi expects to earn about US$8 million per year from concession fees.

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