Judiciary support staff strike declared illegal

The Judiciary has declared as illegal a strike by its support staff and asked them to return to work or face reprisals.

Support staff in the Judiciary downed their tools on Tuesday to demand that their conditions of services be approved by Parliament with immediate effect as is the case with judicial officers, notably magistrates and judges.

Some of the striking staff outside the High Court in Blantyre

The workers are also demanding the resignation of Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda and registrar of the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal Agnes Patemba for allegedly failing to address their grievances.

But through a letter signed by the Judiciary controller of human resources management and development Evans Lora addressed to the support staff and other departments, the sit-in has been declared illegal.

Reads the letter: “The management has observed with concern the sit-in by some members of the Judiciary at the Principal Registry and Chief Resident Magistrate’s court.

“Management is aware that the current sit-in has not been called for by the union and proper procedures have not been followed. The sit-in is, therefore, illegal and management is advising all members of staff to return to their work station and resume work today [23rd day of July 2019].”

The letter further said while management appreciates that every person has the right to freedom of association and the right to assemble, it recognises that the Judiciary has a workers union which engages management and other relevant authorities on issues of concern.

From Monday, the support staff laid down tools paralysing the country’s justice delivery system, especially in Blantyre.

The bone of contention is an approval by Parliament of the conditions of service for judicial officers on March 21 2019 where, among others, the magistrates and judges have received a salary increment and a revision of their condition of service as per their request.

The support staff want their conditions of services to be handled by Parliament and not the Judicial Service Commission because they feel they are being treated unfairly.

Support staff at Supreme Court of Appeal, High Court, Blantyre Magistrate’s courts and other courts in Blantyre converged at the High Court in Blantyre chanting outside the court premises.

However, some courts particularly in Lilongwe and Mzuzu continued with business as usual.

Speaking on behalf of the striking staff, Harry Hepeni, who works as a court clerk, while acknowledging that the union was dissolved due to some misunderstandings, said they will not relent to pressure but continue with the strike until their demands are met.

Chancellor College professor of law Edge Kanyongolo expressed concern over the development, considering that a lot of Malawians whose cases are being handled by the court are being denied justice.

Among the cases to be affected, is the election case expected to continue in court on Thursday and Friday this week.

In 2017, Treasury approved an allocation of housing allowance for judicial officers leaving out the support staff.

This prompted the support staff to down tools for over three weeks before arbitrators advised them to call it off to facilitate the right of access to justice and legal remedies of the citizens.

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