Patrick Manda was fired three weeks ago after seven years of service as a heavy goods vehicle driver at Mota-Engil’s Mkwinda Campsite in Neno. His letter of dismissal gave him three days notice, three days leave and payment for the number of days he worked in May.
His crime, he said was an alleged wastage of fresh concrete. He claimed that it was about 8 pm when he cleaned his vehicle before knocking off only to be told the following morning that he had mistakenly thrown away concrete.
“I waited for close to an hour that evening after my boss had retired to his room at the campsite along Zalewa Road to get more instructions. I then cleaned my vehicle as procedure demanded, before knocking off. I was fired on the spot the following morning,” said Manda.
He is just one of the 24 Malawians sacked from the company, according to one of the representatives of the employees, John Murray Banda.
Nation on Sunday met a few of the fired staff at the campsite on Tuesday this week during a strike by workers who are demanding repatriation of over 100 employees from Thailand and salary increment of over 200 percent.
“Management told us it wants to replace us. We were called to a meeting on June 5 2013 where we were told that management decided to employ Thais. Most of them are not qualified and it is Malawians who have been teaching them,” said one machine operator who refused to disclose his name.
Most interviewees claimed that the Thais were being paid $1 300 (about K440 000) a month with a daily allowance of K8 000 for accommodation as opposed to Malawians who are paid between K11 000 and K27 000 depending on their skills.
“They have been firing us all of a sudden halfway into our three-year contracts. Most of the Thais are illegal immigrants who are skipping the company’s employment procedures. While it takes longer to employ a local, these foreigners’ processes take lesser time. We are demanding their deportation and salary increment,” said a driver who also opted for anonymity.
Responding to allegations that management told workers that it will replace them with Thais, Mota-Engil’s managing director Jose-dinis da-Silva in response to a questionnaire, said it is not true. He, however, said the company has hired 115 Thais.
“This is totally untrue; Mota-Engil…is continuously training staff…We must emphasise that we have got a working force of 5 000 employees at different levels and we never had anything similar to the current situation. This is very unfortunate and contradicts the culture and proactive attitude of Malawians towards work,” said da Silva.
As to how many Malawians have been employed and fired, the contract manager said: “On this particular project we have above 3 000 employees, we do not see the reasoning behind the strike because of five percent of the work force.
“As a matter of fact those [Thais] should have been welcomed because they will facilitate know-how and skills transference. Like in any other business, dismissals do exist and more often because of reckless behaviour towards company property,” wrote da Silva.
On allegations of salary and daily allowances Thais are getting, da Silva dismissed the claims.
“…We must emphasise that we have recognised Conditions of Service well known by the Labour Office which we entirely abide by. The Thais are contracted through an outsourcing supplier, therefore , the arrangements between them are not known to us,” he replied.
As to how many Thais have been recruited and why recruit from Thailand, the contract manager said it is in line with the company’s need.
“We have 115 employees from Thailand. This is in relation to availability, skills, cost and time frame. We have a scarcity of 160 operators for night shifts. The ones that have come are in line with our needs. However, some have been seen as not qualified enough and have been sent back, which is normal,” he said.
One of the top managers who opted for anonymity hinted that there was a bigger issue to the strike than that of the Thais.
“There is a lot of diesel theft with about five people being fired daily. Once fired, they feel the economic pinch and want to return,” he said.
One of the workers confirmed the theft but not the reason for the strike.
“We sell it at K10 000 per 25 litres or more. We normally sell more than six jerry cans by siphoning vehicles,” he said.
Meanwhile, striking workers held a meeting on Friday with management, ministries of Labour and Home Affairs, where a 30 percent salary increment was agreed.
Employee’s representative Banda confirmed the meeting and said workers agreed to return to work pending another meeting on Tuesday next week, where he said further salary adjustment were promised in accordance with grades and unskilled workers from Thailand will return home. n