Health workers, judiciary staff set to strike

Health workers, judiciary staff set to strike

The country’s healthcare and justice delivery systems are set to crash from next week if government does not attend to their workers’ grievances on salaries and other conditions of service.

 The disgruntled workers are embraced by four workers’ unions in the two sectors.

Healthcare workers during a previous strike in this file photo

The unions are the National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives in Malawi (Nonm) and Physician Assistants Union of Malawi (Paum) as well as the Judiciary Members of Staff Union (Jumsu) and the Association for Magistrates in Malawi (AMA).

Healthcare workers’ strike on June 10

Following the collapse of their talks with government over allowances, the healthcare workers have set June 10 2024 for a day-long sit-in.

Health workers under Nonm and Paum said they fully-understand the consequences of the action, but will proceed because of government’s failure to provide feedback based on agreed timelines.

The sit-in will be held in all public and Christian Health Association of Malawi (Cham) hospitals, meaning that Malawians seeking medical help will only have private hospitals to serve them at a cost, a burden for the majority poor.

The setting of the date for the sit-in comes even after Capital Hill warned against the industrial action, saying, Section 47 of the Labour Relations Act, prohibits essential service providers, such as healthcare workers from conducting a strike.

The Ministry of Health warned this week that those involved will face the law.

In a letter on Thursday evening to their membership, Nonm leader Shouts Simeza and his Paum counterpart Solomon Chomba said delays in implementing agreed-upon allowances are disappointing and undermining commitment to contact-and-dialogue.

It reads: “In light of this, the national executive council for Nonm and Paum have collectively resolved to proceed with a sit-in as per the collective demand of the membership of both organisations who, as we speak, are languishing in poverty despite their dedication and service to humanity.

“Let it be known that this decision was not made lightly as we needed to make a comprehensive analysis, thorough consultations and a conclusive resolution following the futile contact-and-dialogue thus far.”

All nurses, midwives and clinicians have been urged to go to their respective workplaces in full uniform and participate in the sit-in to demonstrate solidarity and unionism.

But in a written response on Thursday, Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe was hopeful of continued engagement, but warned against the decision to strike.

He said: “Their leaders are aware that Section 47 of the Labour Relations Act, pertaining to dispute settlement at workplace, prohibits essential service providers, such as health workers, from conducting a strike.”

While saying they fully-understand the potential negative impact on healthcare services, the disgruntled health workers hope that the action will prompt the relevant authorities to expedite the implementation of the agreed-upon allowances.

“We are also aware of the gravity of this action, its risks and the associated inconveniences this will cause to individual patients, their families and the nation at large.

“It is our understanding that this is detrimental and may stand in the way of the vision of the State President, His Excellency Dr Lazarus MacCarthy Chakwera, who we believe has the best interests of all Malawians, who may be deprived of their right to quality healthcare services during this period,” adds the letter.

Weighing in on the matter, associate professor of law Ngeyi Kanyongolo, who is also vice-chancellor of the Catholic University of Malawi (Cunima), said the only remedy was for the health workers to move the Industrial Relations Court for intervention.

She said: “The law provides that if conciliation has failed, the workers can take up the matter with the Industrial Relations Court. That is the next course of action, and then the court will provide guidelines.”

Besides agreeing to implement a 15 percent salary increment, government committed to raise several allowances, including locum rates, risk or medical allowance, government top-up and professional allowance.

The February 13 2024 agreement document signed by Secretary for Health Dr Samson Mndolo, conciliator and Malawi Human Rights Commission executive secretary Habiba Osman, Simeza and Chomba indicates that the proposed monthly professional allowance will jump to K30 000 from K1 800 for juniors and K2 800 for seniors.

Staff union, magistrates’ labour withdrawal

 On the other hand, an industrial strike by magistrates and Judiciary support staff regarding review of salaries and other matters relating to their conditions of service, could also crash the justice system in the country from next week if government fails to swiftly act on their demands.

 After protracted negotiations with government, the magistrates, through AMA and the support staff through Jumsu feel they are being short-changed and the only option is to proceed on an industrial action.

 According to notices of their intentions to withdraw labour which Weekend Nation has seen, if government fails to address their concerns in time, the magistrates will go on strike from Tuesday while the support staff are set to begin theirs two days later.

In its letter addressed to Ministry of Labour Principal Secretary Wezi Kayira, dated May 13 2024, AMA says the action follows a communication of its declaration of dispute dated April 2 2024.

The letter, jointly signed by AMA president Kondani Chinangwa and secretary general Mathews Alberto Malunga, reads: “Following the lack of progress regarding the same, and in fulfilment of the legal requirement as provided for under section 46(3) of the Labour Relations Act, CAP 54:01 of the Laws of Malawi, we write to your good office to express our notice of intention to commence industrial action by way of strike.

“This notice, therefore, serves to inform you that the judicial officers of the cadre of magistracy shall commence their strike at the lapse of seven days from the date of service of this letter as required under the law.”

 On its part, Jumsu, through its letter addressed to Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Simplex Chithyola-Banda dated May 15 2024, notifies the minister of the judiciary staff intent to withdraw labour starting next Thursday.

This, according to the union, is because the ministry has failed to address the members of staff concerns raised during a meeting they held in Blantyre on April 8 2024.

“In our previous communication, we clearly stated that if what was agreed in the said meeting fails to materialize, Judiciary staff will have no option but commence an industrial action hence this notice,” reads the letter signed by Jumsu president Charles Lizigeni.

 Both Chithyola-Banda and Kayira did not respond to our questionnaires when asked about the issue yesterday.

In an interview, the union’s spokesperson Andy Haliwa said they have tried to engage government including the Ministry of Information but “we feel government is taking the issues lightly”.

 According to Haliwa, their major concern is the issue of salary increment which was last revised in 2018.

 “This is in line with the Judicature Administration Act which provides for a revision of conditions of service for members of staff every three years.

 “We were supposed to have another revision in 2021, but in 2022 the then finance minister cited conditions set by the IMF as a barrier to revise the same since they were against a bloated public service wage bill,” he explained.

 But Haliwa said after they accepted the justification and agreed that once government sorts out IMF issues the salaries would be revised, they were surprised that nothing came forth.

 He said since then they have been engaging the ministry and met the former minister and his officials but to no avail.

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