Written by MARAPOST
The Malawi Government and the Civil Service Trade Union (CSTU) on February 21, 2013 agreed on a 61 per cent salary hike for the lowest paid civil servant in the country, a resolution that ended a civil servants' strike that almost brought the government to its knees.
The two sides further resolved that highest paid public employees will be accorded a 5 percent salary hike with effect from January 1, 2013.
“We have agreed with government on a 61 percent increment for the lowest paid civil servant and five percent for the highest to be paid in arrears from January 2013 effective from next month,” said Mr Elia Kamphinda Banda, CSTU president at the briefing.
For close to two weeks, civil servants in the country were on strike, pushing government to review their monthly earnings upwards, a situation that put government business at a standstill. The Maravi Post, ever striving to give you news behind the scenes, caught up with Mr Elia Kamphinda Banda, the CSTU president to draw a lesson or two from the avoidable confrontation.
Maravi Post: What led to the collapse of the initial CSTU / the Government Negotiating Team (GNT)?
Elia Kamphinda Banda (EKB): The initial talks failed because in all fairness the GNT was not properly led. The chair did not have negotiations attributes. Again, the GNT came to the table pre-empting the negotiations saying that “the government has no money”; when even kindergarten kids were and are able to see that this government is spending haphazardly.
Maravi Post: Why did Government not react conclusively when you (the CSTU) identified the leader as the stumbling block?
EKB: Honestly, I do not know. May be the government, especially the officials in the Office of President Cabinet (OPC), and the politicians know better.
Maravi Post: Can you please justify your demands?
EKB: Our demands were very reasonable and I will respond with three questions: 1) Can anyone, in their right mind, say that the cost of living is better today compared to same time last year? 2) If government is able to adjust salaries of other governmental agencies due to a high cost of leaving, why should Civil Servants be left out? 3) If the president is able to raise ministers' allowances by 80%, do civil servants buy their needs from markets different from the ones graced by the ministers? It is, after looking at all these developments, only fair that the public service salaries and working conditions needed to be immediately reviewed even without the CSTU reaching the extent of staging a sit-in.
Maravi Post: If the Malawi Government had not given in, what would have been your next step as a union?
EKB: If government had not met our demands, Malawi was going to be totally shut down by now.
Maravi Post: Various economists and players are saying that the increase in labour costs will harm the Malawi economy. What is your take on this? First, as CSTU and secondly as a Malawian.
EKB: The Government of Malawi is better placed to answer this question. In my opinion the economy is already sick. An economy where you cannot reasonably predict the price of any commodity when you are going to the market is one that is in the Intensive Care Unit, with or without salary hikes.
Maravi Post: How did the average civil servant feel way back in July 2012 when Cabinet allowances were increased by 80% - acknowledging the increase in costs; while civil servants salaries stagnated?
EKB: The ministers' allowances hike was the first and the worst provocation ever experienced by civil servants. It was an outright insult and gave us the impression that ministers are not meant to feel the economic pinch under the austerity budget. The message we got is that suffering from austerity measures is supposed to be exclusive to civil servants.
Maravi Post: The Kwacha has been floated. Holding all things equal, in six or seven months, it will have depreciated further. This means the cost of living is still on the increase. What will the CSTU do, given that the government is saying the current increase will already be “painful to the economy”?
EKB: The CSTU is driven by its membership; members will advise us what to do next.
Maravi Post: Let us move-on to other realities. Landlords and other service/goods providers in Malawi, have a tendency of increasing household rents (and prices in general) when Civil Service salaries have been adjusted with fanfare like has happened this time. What contingency plans do you have for your members because rental increases, coupled with the effects of the floatation could quickly wipe off any gains made?
EKB: The best institution to address this is the government. If the executive continues to waste money by among other things, continuing entrenching this culture of food hand-outs, which is not sustainable; things will worsen. And the CSTU will react accordingly. Mind you, drivers of economy are all of us, and all voices should be taken into consideration when strategic decisions are being made. Period!
Maravi Post: It is a fact that Civil servants in Malawi, in the course of their work, witness high levels corruption – day in and day out – at all levels. What is the CSTU doing to help its members in dealing with this challenge?
EKB: Corruption is evil. In this regard, CSTU is in partnership with South African Policing Union and one of the projects we are currently running is that of corruption in the public service. We also have a strong working relationship with public sector unions in South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Lesotho towards the same end.
Maravi Post: There is a general perception in some quarters that some civil servants are lazy, are always moonlighting and therefore not deserving of a decent salary. What is your take on this and how will the CSTU contribute to see to it that the now better remunerated civil servants are:
· Diligent and effective?
· Are no longer accused of asking for bribes to perform a job that they are paid to do?
EKB: Civil servants are paid miserably. A diploma nurse is paid around K60,000 when a driver or cleaner at a government agency e.g. the Malawi Institute of Management (MIM) is paid over K80,000. A clerical officer at the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) gets over K127,000 when an economist in civil service gets K70,000. Don't you think this is ample justification for civil servants to sell mandasi and eggs in offices? As to the perception that civil servants are lazy, are always moonlighting and therefore not deserving of a decent salary I will not address at this point but promise to come back to you if that is still the case after government has undergone harmonisation of salaries.
Maravi Post: Thank you for your time Mr Eliah Kamphinda Banda.
EKB: The pleasure is mine.
(c) The Maravi Post 2013