Hundreds of protesting workers on Monday downed tools and blocked the entrance to Mota-Engil’s Mkwinda campsite in Neno, demanding that Thais recruited as expatriates be sent packing.
About 300 Thais are said to have arrived in the country three weeks ago, as part of the Mota-Engil’s acceleration on the works to achieve the ambitious milestone set to the construction of the $1 billion Kachaso—Nkaya railway link.
“Our senior officers who are on site are discussing with the workers’ representative and I hope that after hearing their problems we can come up with amicable solutions,” said Jose Dinis da Silva, managing director of Mota-Engil Malawi, the contractors carrying out the works on behalf of Vale. There was a deadlock to the standoff after a lengthy discussion yesterday that lasted about five hours.
Th e wo r ke r s a l s o rejected the mediation of labour officers from Mwanza District. “There is a stalemate. The situation is tense and we are going back,” said Kennedy Chiwaya, Mwanza district labour officer.
The company’s contract manager, Joao Neto, in a recent circular to employees at the camp, said as part of the acceleration already going on, more equipment was mobilised and night shifts started on many work fronts; hence, more employees were required. “As a result, the needs of spe c i a l i s ed he a v y ma chiner y oper a tor s increased.
To address this need in short period of time, we needed to engage highly skilled and experienced operators and the only way possible was to bring expatriates as there are no more available Malawian experienced operators, neither there is time to train more,” said Joao.
But the pronouncement ha s r i l ed the 3 000 workers, accusing the company of bringing in casual labourers that are replacing Malawians. The protesters staged a sit-in after walking for about 5km to the site. They blocked the road to the campsite from the Blantyre-Lilongwe M1 Road.
“We will not relent until the Thais are deported and fired Malawians are re-engaged,” fumed John Murry Banda, the workers’ representative. Neto, in the circular, h owe v e r , s a i d t h e expatriate operators that were brought in are to add to the existing manpower and not to replace any existing operator.