One hundred and twenty former temporary employees of Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) have filed suits against the power utility company for alleged violation of their rights and unfair labour practice.
The aggrieved individuals, who were employed as power linesmen, have sued the parastatal in four separate groups of 46, 39, 19 and 16.
Their cases are being heard at the Industrial Relations Court (IRC) Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu registries.
Lawyer Burton Mhango, who is representing the ex-employees, confirmed the development in an interview on Tuesday but declined to comment further, saying he had no instructions to that effect.
But court documents Nation on Sunday has seen show that the case involving Steven Mbizi and 38 others is being heard at IRC Blantyre Registry under file number 219 of 2019 together with case number 86 of 2020 which was commenced by Frackson Gwaza and 45 others.
Innocent Kapesi and 15 others dragged Escom to Lilongwe Registry in matter number IRC 391 of 2019 while the Mzuzu Registry had been hearing IRC matter number 51 of 2019 involving Tipitanawo Moffat and 18 others.
According to IRC sources, the Mzuzu and Lilongwe cases were later consolidated into one and are being heard at the Mzuzu Registry, where the parties are currently waiting for the court’s judgement.
The IRC matter number 219 of 2019 at Blantyre Registry was partially resolved, such that there are other outstanding issues awaiting the court’s determination, according to our source.
A Nation on Sunday analysis of the documents indicates that the gist of the claims is that the complainants were unfairly and unlawfully treated by Escom as temporary employees despite serving for periods ranging from four to 17 years.
The former workers are now demanding, among others actions, confirmation as full-time employees, accrual of pension from the date each one of them joined the company, gratuity, payment of damages for unfair labour practice, payment of employment benefits such as electricity provision, allowances, leave days and overtime pay, which should have been paid or were being paid to full-time employees.
The aggrieved ex-workers who were hired as seasonal employees, started bringing claims against Escom after they were dismissed on December 31 2019.
According to a statement of claim in case number IRC 86 of 2020, the applicants were employed as seasonal employees but their contracts were continuously and consistently renewed every year.
The statement further states that the applicants were regarded as seasonal employees for various long periods irrespective of having been employed for continuous years and receiving a salary each month.
“The applicants had been promised that they would be formally employed as permanent employees but the respondent has failed, neglected and refused to permanently employ them as promised.
“The respondent dismissed the applicants without providing any hearing, address or consultations before terminating the applicants’ employment contracts. This conduct of the respondent, therefore, amounts to unfair labour practice.
“The respondent did not dismiss the applicant with any notice either in writing or verbally. The applicants plead that this was in contravention of the statutory labour provisions that provide for a notice to be given before dismissal of an employee and as a result the applicants have not received notice pay,” reads part of the statement.
The 120 complainants were under Escom’s construction department and their assignments included allocating, excavating, erecting of poles and clearing ground for base poles to be constructed.
In an interview on Wednesday, one of the applicants in IRC matter number 86 of 2020, Raphey Jumbe, confirmed taking Escom to court for the alleged labour dispute.
The Blantyre-based Jumbe, who served Escom for five years, said they were waiting for the court to give a trial date after more than a year of inaction.
According to conditions of engagement the ex-staff signed which Nation on Sunday has seen, besides the wages (clean wage comprising basic monthly salary, housing allowance and leave grant) which they were receiving, they were also entitled to overtime, annual leave at the rate of 1.25 days per month and protective clothing and safety.