Government bows down to striking civil servants in Malawi

Anti government protesters in Malawi

Anti government protesters in Malawi

After running battles, accusations and counter-accusations in Malawi, the striking civil servants and the government have reached a deadlock, and the Malawi’s Civil Service Trade Union (CSTU) has since called off the strike that paralyzed government operations and for the first time in the annals of Malawi school children showed government that they too are a force to reckon.

In their Thursday February 21 2013 night Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the Malawi government and CSTU have agreed to a 61percent pay increase for the lowest paid while those in the high earning grade are expected to benefit a five percent pay hike.

Reading a communiqué at a joint news conference with the Government Negotiating Team (GNT) CSTU President Elia Kamphinda- Banda announced that the government has offered to review civil servants’ salary structure.

The pay hike is effective January 1 2013 but the beneficiaries will have a feel of the new wage in March, narrated the CSTU president, which some economic commentators like Henry Kachaje say it calls for the government to make better money to foot the demand for payment.

The economic commentator further observed that it may require the government to raise some taxes which might make business likewise raise prices which could lead to a further depreciation of the Malawi Kwacha, and ‘at the end of it all the real buying power value gained from the salary hike may just be 10 to 20 per cent.”

While the CSTU president was in the company of the Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) general secretary Dennis Kalekeni, whose members only joined the strike this week, the GNT had Chairperson Ben Botolo and human resource management department principal secretary, Sam Madula.

The civil servant union leader said the increments have been spread across the grades and the percentage increases vary from one grade to another while the GNT chair explained that the government might meet the current estimated wage bill through cuts in some of the votes within the current fiscal year, and it is through such cuts that it is assumed that the Malawi government will manage the agreed increments.

“A few services are going to suffer with this increment because we have to cut off some money in some other sectors,” the GNT observed, just as the state president indicated before departure to Equatorial Guinea earlier in the day.

Before departure to the summit, the head of state is reported to have instructed that the demands put forwarded by the civil servants be addressed even if it meant some ministries and departments could suffer in budgetary allocations.

Earlier in the week, Finance minister had ruled out the possibility that the pay hike demand by the civil servants could be met, amid calls from various concerned groupings to look into the welfare of the civil servants, amongst them, the Consumers Association of Malawi, who, last month demanded salary adjustment in the civil service. And just this week the consumer rights body together with Malawi Congress of Trade Union put their weight behind the striking civil servants.

Just when the government thought the battle is over, pupils went to the streets in solidarity with their suffering teachers who until this week were not part of the striking public servants. In Blantyre, pupils in the age group of 8 to 14 Wednesday halted classes at the Joyce Banda Foundation, whose patron is the state president, prompting high profile police officers and anti-riot police service to join their general duties and criminal investigations team to quell the situation at the president’s education institution.

And on Thursday the movement spread to the capital Lilongwe where pupils went around private schools demanding that they too shut down, with Blantyre becoming too risky to move around, and at Kudya Puma service station shop and Chitawira Peoples chain store shop were rooted of everything by people who took advantage of the situation.

Most of the roads were blocked by the irate pupils from various schools across the commercial city that thronged the major roads and for a while life in the central business district came to a standstill, and some banks had to jack up their security.

The police cordoned off pupils marching along the independent drive in Blantyre before the pupils reached the Sanjika palace, just as their Lilongwe counterparts were, before reaching the Mtunthana state lodge.

But in other places both in Blantyre and Lilongwe, the police had to use tear gas to disperse pupils who gave the law enforcers a tough time to contain the situation.

It is not yet clear whether the school going kids mobilizing themselves or there is another force behind the genesis.

The civil servants started the strike on February 11 and this week flights had to be cancelled after the airport staff had joined the strike which started at a slow pace last week.

© 2013, Peter Chipanga. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.

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