Business at the seat of Malawi Government, Capital Hill in Lilongwe, ground to a halt on Tuesday after civil servants stayed away from their offices. They were protesting against government failure to address their complaints on poor conditions of service, including low pay.
Hundreds of civil servants carrying tree branches and placards were seen chanting around Capital Hill, coaxing their colleagues, who were seen to be working in various ministries and departments, to join the strike.
They chanted “Akulemera ife tikuona! Akunenepa ife tikuona” [They have become rich overnight. They are gaining weight while we watch] in an apparent reference to some unspecified top officials in government.
Some of those who insisted to work were forced out of their offices. Entrances to several ministries, particularly Ministry of Education, Science and Technology whose Principal Secretary Dr. MacPhail Magwira is Government Negotiating Team (GNT) chairperson, were blocked with tree branches.
Civil Service Trade Union (CSTU) president Eliah Kamphinda Banda and other union members led the striking civil servants who in the morning converged at Capital Hill’s “freedom park” outside the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. Later, they moved to various offices, including Treasury and the Office of the President and Cabinet.
Stay-away to continue
Kamphinda Banda said the stay-away will continue this Wednesday because government is yet to address their grievances.
He said: “We are still taking negotiations as paramount. What we want is that salaries of all civil servants should be equal to salaries of those working in parastatals. Salaries of all government workers should be the same. We will not go back to work until government responds to our grievances.”
Kamphinda Banda said Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) staff will join the stay-away on Friday if government delays to raise their perks.
He also said doctors, nurses and teachers are expected to join the strike on Monday, adding that civil servants are tired of eating bonya (small fish) due to low pay.
Said the CSTU president: “Government is playing delay tactics to drag the issue of salary increment until July in the next financial year. We have also learnt that they are planning to give us five percent salary increment. We will not accept that.”
The civil servants agreed to wear black and bring items like wreaths and headbands this Wednesday to signify their suffering due to poor conditions of service.
In Blantyre, there was a lukewarm reaction to the stay-away on the second day of the planned strike, with 70 percent of the civil servants at the government office complex working.
In an interview on Tuesday, Magwira refused to comment on the progress the GNT has made in addressing the demands of the staff, saying: “I am not giving any comment as of now.”
On Monday, there was confusion on the strike after government issued a statement announcing cancellation of the strike.