Blantyre, Malawi — Support staff for Malawi’s judiciary system has ended a week-long labor strike after the government promised to consider its demands next year. The government has told the workers that it will honor their grievances in April 2023.
The striking judicial support staff resumed work Dec. 19, 2022, after several meetings between representatives of the workers and Malawian government authorities.
Andy Haliwa, spokesperson for the Judiciary Members of Staff Union in Malawi, said Finance Minister Sosten Gwengwe told attendees at a meeting over the weekend that their demands are not part of the current budget.
“We met the minister of finance in Lilongwe, where we had discussions as regards to the same and we reached a compromise whereby the government made a commitment that come next year, April, they might give us what we wanted,” Haliwa said.
The strikers’ demands include improved working conditions and allowances for working overtime or outside their normal places of employment, among other things.
Some critics of the government say the budget excuse is a way for officials to sidestep the striking workers’ demands.
But Haliwa does not think so.
“No, no, no, no. Much as we are a union, we trust our government,” he said. “The only problem we had was lack of communication. So, when we requested the minister to meet him, he accepted. We met, we discussed, and he promised that he will honor his promise.”
The strike, which began December 12, led to the indefinite suspension of many cases, as the strikers barricaded court buildings, denying access to judges, lawyers and other regular court users.
The strike also left prison and police cells overflowing with crime suspects.
Peter Kalaya, spokesperson for the Malawi Police Service, said the resumption of court operations will help ease crowding in police station holding cells.
“It was really bad because in all the days when these officers were on strike, we were still making arrests,” Kalaya said. “And we have our cells that are actually meant as temporary custody, so there was congestion in most of our police cells.”
A strike lasted two months in 2015, when workers demanded a 30% salary increase.
Michael Kayiyatsa, executive director for the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, said the government should work out a way to ensure that future court strikes do not happen.
“It’s not right that every time there are concerns, the government has to pay the blind eye,” he said. “To avoid a similar situation, the government should be proactive in addressing the concerns raised by judiciary workers, and also, other civil service providers.”
Haliwa said the workers have signed a memorandum of understanding with the government to ensure that their demands are honored. However, he added that court workers might resume their strike if the government flouts the agreement and fails to take their demands seriously.