No water in Lilongwe as water staff shun minister
Staff for Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) in Malawi's capital city on Wednesday refused to meet Labour Minister Eunice Makangala who had driven to their premises to hold talks with them.
The workers have lived up to their earlier threat to go on strike if their salaries were not increased by 30 percent as endorsed by LWB management on July 19 this year.
A shocked minister was sent to find a solution to the strike as she personally tried to call Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU) leaders to come and intervene in the fresh stand-off.
All workers at LWB except consultants, have joined the strike, crippling water delivery services in the whole city that has over one million residents.
Makangala drove into LWB premises at around 10am and immediately met the organisation's management that briefed her on the bone of contention, but when she sought an audience with leaders of the LWB union, they refused to come forth, arguing that there was nothing to discuss as the matter was clear.
"This strike is not against management. The board approved what we had asked for but government came to recommend a 5 percent increment. We are only going back to work if they put it in writing that we will get the 30 percent pay rise," the union president Ipyana Kalolokesya said in an interview.
As if this was not enough, Makangala was also informed that some workers at Blantyre Water Board had also downed their tools in their quest to push their management to increase their salaries.
During the briefing with the minister, LWB General Manager Gabriel Gonani explained the background to the whole misunderstanding backed by his senior board officials.
LWB staff and the Water Employees Trade Union earlier released a statement notifying consumers that the workers would be going on strike at the expiry of 21 days if their demands were not met.
The LWB workers assured Lilongwe residents that water supply would not be interrupted. However, others confided in The Daily Times that that is not guaranteed any more.
According to Kalolokesya, the last two devaluations of the kwacha followed by electricity and water tariff hikes and other commodity price increases have necessitated the demand for the pay hike.
"This is not a problem. The 30 percent salary increment was already embedded in the budget. They simply have to effect this. Even the take home for our financiers and government are in the budget. This is a straight forward matter.
"What we are asking is why government is intervening in matters the board had already resolved?" Kalolokesya asked.