Workers at Kayelekela uranium mining project in northern Karonga district of Malawi have began an indefinite strike over labour conditions.
The local workers told Nyasa Times that they are demanding pay increase from the uranium producer Paladin.
Workers downed their tools on Friday afternoon halting production at the site.
“We have been holding meetings over the issue since last week and on Friday 4th May 2014, the management threatened us with reprisals over a planned sit in so that our demands are met,” a spokesman for Local Staff Association told Nyasa Times.
The local staff said they resolved to remove the president of the association Passmore Chawinga “for being a coward and siding with management”. He was replaced him with Emmanuel Makolo who led the strike action.
The local staff says despite their pay rise demands not being met, Paladin is able to pay non-essential expatriates higher salaries ranging from K1 million to over K4 million per month.
“A Malawian can do the same work for K300, 000. We are therefore asking Paladin to trim the number of these non-essential expatriates in stores, administration, accounts, safety and environment, processing, human resources, security and the housekeeping,” they demanded.
“Paladin can operate within the same budget or even save money if this contingent of useless expatriates is released.”
The local staff said most of the expatriates are accommodated at the mine and are provided with air travel every six weeks while most of the Malawian workers have their own accommodation in Karonga.
“We find such expenses on expatriates ridiculous and does not justify our low salaries and does not justify the claim which the General Manager makes in his letter of 12th April 2012 on the same salary increments.”
The claim that expatriates doing similar work to Malawians pocket 10 to 15 times more than a local worker, calling it “ discrimination without justification” as in some cases it is Malawians that give these expatriates orientation.
The local staff said they have made contacts with the Ministry of Labour on the planned strike and the issue of expatriates “who do not deserve to be working” at the mine.
A company official, who asked not to be named, confirmed the strike and said Paladin management remained open to dialogue with the local workers to resolve the issue.
But Paladin’s General Manager for International Affairs, Greg Walker, has since called the strike “illegal.”
Walker told a local radio that the demands by the employees are “unreasonable” which the company cannot fulfill overnight.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :