No one likes a breakup, but sometimes that’s the best thing to do for progress and peace of mind. What matters, however, is how you part ways.
The same happens when an employer terminates the agreement with an employee. It is a sensitive task that must be handled with care.
However, the Malawi Government seems allergic to the dos and don’ts if recent court rulings are anything to go by.
Just last month, the Industrial Relations Court in Blantyre ordered the government to pay former State House press secretary Brian Banda K103 million in compensation for unfair dismissal. Although State lawyers abstained from the court hearings, the Attorney General’s spokesperson told The Nation that the government would appeal the ruling because some facts “were misapplied”.
Two weeks later, the same court ordered the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) to compensate some 3 283 workers for unfair dismissal.
So far, it is not yet known how much Admarc will pay the unfairly sacked employees and whether it will challenge the ruling in the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal. However, the State-owned grain trader is likely to pay more than it envisaged.
The Admarc purge started in 2022 when then Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe sent the parastatatal’s entire staff on paid leave. In January 2023, Admarc acting chief executive officer Ethel Zilirakhasu retrenched the 4000-plus staff in “a 100 percent restructuring”.
In both cases, it is astonishing how human resource officers in government institutions disregard labour laws, especially how to fire an employee.
Sadly, it is the taxpayer who pays the penalty for the negligent public servants’ reckless decisions.
Section 57 of the Employment Act reads: “The employment of an employee shall not be terminated by an employer unless there is a valid reason for such the capacity or conduct of the employee or based on the operational requirement of the undertaking.”
The section provides that employment shall not be terminated for reasons connected with an employee’s capacity or conduct before he or she is offered an opportunity to defend themselves against the allegations made.
The right to be heard is obligatory “unless the employer cannot reasonably be expected to provide the opportunity”.
Therefore, one wonders why human resources personnel in public service make costly blunders and shortcuts that hurt taxpayers struggling to beat the worsening economic meltdown.
Maybe it is time courts started ordering negligent public servants to pay for their misdeeds.
The cases against Admarc and State House are just few examples of reported unfair dismissals government could have prevented by upholding law and order in labour disputes.
Such court disputes, in addition to corruption and abuse of office, constitute a gaping leak draining billions from public coffers due to unpunished recklessness.
Strangely, the people who sleep on duty or sanction the shortcuts do not lack information, but the zeal to uphold the rule of law.
In her blog, Greek human resource specialist Christina Pavlou discusses five ways to fire an employee gracefully.
Among the tips, she argues that it is crucial to communicate clearly, provide specific reasons for termination and ensure legal compliance. After all, no one, not even the employer, is above the law.
Pavlou also tips employers to have a well-executed termination process that can minimise negative impacts on the individual and the organisation while maintaining a healthy workplace environment.
This is what government officers entrusted to hire and fire public servants ought to do.
However, it is strange that they okay costly dismissals instead of playing by the rules.
If they need a checklist, they need not look further than the legal requirements outlined in the Labour Act. If the proposed dismissal does not tick all the boxes, most likely it is a disaster about to happen and they will serve the taxpayers if they dutifully pull the plug.