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Malawi public workers threaten to close airports

Kamphinda-BandaBLANTYRE-- Public workers in Malawi, on strike demanding a 67 per cent pay hike, have threatened to close the country's airports should government not bow down to their demands.

But government since said it has no money to meet their demands.

"If government does not respond positively to our demands civil aviation workers will join the strike which means all airports will be closed," said Eliah Kamphinda Banda, president of the Civil Service Trade Union (CSTU) on Tuesday.

Public workers in Malawi are on strike protesting high cost of living resulting from last May's 49 per cent devaluation of the currency, the kwacha. Government gave the public servants between 21 and 46 per cent salary hikes last year.

But Kamphinda Banda said the 67 per cent devaluation of the kwacha has eaten up the value of public servants' salaries.

"We can hardly survive," he said.

The strike started slowly last week with only government workers on Capital Hill, the government seat in the capital, Lilongwe, laying down their tools. But by Tuesday the strike spread with teachers joining in. Nurses have also given notice to join the strike.

Kamphinda Banda said on Wednesday the striking public workers will march to the Office of the President and Cabinet in Lilongwe to deliver a petition to Pres Joyce Banda.

"We will not relent until we are given our dues," he said.

But Finance Minister Ken Lipenga said government has no capacity tom meet the civil servants' demands.

"If we give the 67 per cent increases then we will leave nothing for other sectors," he said. "If we go that route then we should forget our recovery programme."

This is the second public test for President Joyce Banda since she took over power following the sudden death of Pres Bingu wa Mutharika from cardiac arrest in April last year. In January Malawians, led by the Consumer Association of Malawi, also took to the streets protesting the same devaluation of the kwacha.
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