Robert, 30, an usher at one of the restaurants in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial city, was attacked by thugs after knocking off at 10pm and lost his cellphone in the process.
He was walking to Mbayani Township where he stays with his two brothers.
“Our employer does not give us money for transport nor does he arrange for a taxi or a minibus. We literally walk back home after knocking off. The official knocking off time is 10 pm, but on many days, we work up to midnight.
“We devised a system of walking in a group as a security measure, but it is not all the time that we are in a group,” said Robert, who declined to give us his last name to protect himself from employer reprisals.
He added: “On this fateful day, I was alone after knocking off at 10:30pm. I thought I would meet friends from other restaurants, motels or hotels or pubs but I was unlucky. As I descended at M’bwelera, three thugs attacked, searched me and grabbed my cellphone. They cursed me for having no money. They beat me up and fled when they saw a vehicle coming in our direction. I was saved but heavily wounded.”
This is one of the many cases some employees in the hospitality industry experience because their employers do not provide them with transport after knocking off at night.
Some employees have landed in the hands of the police. They get arrested for rogue and vagabond as they walk back home.
Ministry of Labour and Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) have since condemned employers that fail to provide night transport to their employees, saying it is their responsibility to provide safety and security for their staff.
Blantyre district labour officer George Chilonga said employers are required to ensure the safety of their employees.
Ministry of Labour and MCTU have since pledged to investigate the sufferings of the employees, arguing the employers are acting illegally.
Section 13 of the Occupational Safety, Health and Welfare Act, 1997 reads: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure the safety, health and welfare at work of all his employees. The provision and maintenance of a working environment for his employees that is safe, without risks to health, and adequate as regards facilities and arrangement for their welfare at work.”
A visit to some hotels, motels, lodges and restaurants in Blantyre exposed the suffering some employees go through when they work at night.
“We walk back home every day after knocking off. The official knocking off time is 10 pm but sometimes it comes to 11 pm or midnight or 1 am,” said one employee who works at a famous lodge in Blantyre.
“Our boss does not give us transport. We give him all the money we make from tips and from that, he shares among us the money [to] use it for transport. Depending on how much we make from tips, he gives us transport money in the range of K300 (about $0.90) to K500 (about $1.51). When we do not get tips, we go home without any transport money. In any case, the tips are for us and not to be given to the boss,” said one worker.
The employee, who said receives K10 000 (about $30) per month, has no choice but to continue working because life is unbearable without a job.
“There is great poverty in Malawi and staying without a job will be suicidal. We are saved by the grace of God that we come to work and go back safely every day,” the employee said.
Another employee at a famous restaurant in Blantyre said their employer gives them K200 (about $0.60) every night for transport but after 10 pm, there are no minibuses while taxis are expensive.
“It is a joke to get K200 for transport after 10 pm. We are forced to walk home. Last month, we were attacked by thugs and a colleague broke a leg. Sometimes, we find solace in patrol security vehicles. We jump on them and they allow us to pay the little money we may have,” the employee said, adding that he gets K12 000 (about $36) per month.
“When we have no money, we are forced to sleep here without food and beddings. We cannot get home after 10 pm when there are no minibuses. We cannot afford a taxi. Every person needs to go back home after knocking off and not sleep at the hostel. We allow to be abused because there are many people who look for employment and when we complain, we are told to leave because we can be replaced,” he said.
The problem is not the same with big hotels such as Sunbird and Protea because they provide delivery vehicles.
One famous place in Blantyre where people like to get food and accommodation is Chez Maky and the owner Georges Maky said on Tuesday that he used to deliver the employees after knocking off at night but he stopped because of poor roads.
Maky said he gives each employee K300 per day for transport but he was quick to add that the money was not enough to serve its purpose.
Nali Limited assistant managing director Edward Khoromana, whose company owns Nali Lodge in Limbe and a motel at Luchenza in Thyolo, said he does not provide transport to the employees at night because they have a hostel where the employees can sleep and leave for home in the morning.
Khoromana said it would be expensive to provide transport for the employees at night. To help the employees avoid arrests for vagabond, the company gives them identity cards.
Recently, Minister of Labour Eunice Makangala was shocked to learn that employees at Golden Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe walk home after knocking off at night because the hotel does not provide transport.
The minister was told that four employees were attacked by thugs after management failed to provide transport and the minister warned the management to improve the employees’ welfare within a month.
Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) secretary general Pontius Kalichero described as unwelcome the problems the employees go through in the hospitality industry.
“There are many alarming issues in the hospitality industry. It is our concern and we are taking a step. That is unwelcome in a democratic Malawi,” said Kalichero.