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Malawi govt abolishes tenancy labor system; adopts wage bill

The Minister of Labour, Manpower and Development Henry Mussa
The Minister of Labour, Manpower and Development Henry Mussa

LILONGWE (Maravi Post)–The Minister of Labour, Manpower and Development Henry Mussa on Tuesday announced the abolition of tenancy labor system in Malawi adding that government will replace it with wage bill where landlords in estates will be mandated to pay their tenants (employees) monthly salaries for a living.

The development comes barely a week after President Peter Mutharika assured workers in the country of conducive working environment coupled with improved remuneration.

Tenancy system is premised on the employment of family labour including women and children as estate owners grant the tenants access to a parcel of land on the estate and provide them with materials, agricultural inputs and services in consideration for an undertaking by them (tenants) to produce and sell agricultural commodities exclusively to the estate owners.

The system is characterized by low-return and it is exploitative as it presents high levels of informality, causal work arrangements, labour force fragmentation, gender and age-based inequalities with poor working conditions and access to social protection is limited.

Tenancy labour is mainly practiced in tobacco estates in central region as most tenants migrate from southern districts of Mangochi, Machinga, Zomba, Phalombe and Thyolo who are subjected to extreme of planting, harvesting period with hazardous activities without proper gears.

Since 1992, the agony of tobacco tenants has been attracting the social sector including civil society organizations (CSOs) alerting government on terrific conditions women and children go through in practice of tenancy labour but it has been retrogressive response to come up with a legislation as most policy makers are estate owners as doing so was the same as shooting your own foot. This perhaps explains why lawmakers play hide and seek to pass Tenancy labour bill into law.

In  2013, the Joyce Banda regime made reservation to pursue further the enactment of the tenancy Labor Bill on ground that enacting such a bill would legitimize forced labor and that the sector was modernizing in the way that employment of tenancy labor would be self-eradicated as estate owners graduate into employment of hired labor and wage workers.

It is from this background that the Ministry of labour through a news conference on Tuesday, in the capital Lilongwe announced the abolition of the tenancy while intending to replace it with wage bill which will be embedded in the Employment Act with an amendment bill on Section 3 subsection 4 that land lords will be considered as employers while tenants as employees.

The amendment will provide provisions to  punish any one who imposes tenancy on others with MK2 million as penalty for such proprietors.

“After thoroughly weighing concerns raised by different players in the tobacco industry, the ministry decided to a abolish tenancy system in Malawi which is similar to Thangata system of labor, the colonial masters championed before the country attained independence. Instead of having an independent legislation, cabinet committee decided to embed the concerns on tenancy with a section into Employment Act for an amendment.

“The transition of this new wage bill implementation will take a year after conducting consultations and sensitization campaign on the new arrangement. After that, cabinet committee will present recommendations to the cabinet level with the President’s approval for gazette. Thereafter, the wage bill is expected to be tabled into Parliament for discussion. We want implementation of such a law by end of 2017,” explained Mussa.

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