Monday, December 26, 2011

Poor savings culture blamed for Pension Act’s cold reception

The Employers Association of Malawi (Ecam) has hit back at trade unions for expressing reservations over the new Pension Act, blaming their attitude on Malawi’s poor savings culture.
Ecam executive director, Odridge Khunga, said in an interview Thursday that employers were not surprised with recent ‘outbursts’ from workers’ representatives- notably the Building, Construction, Civil Engineering, and Allied Workers Union (BCCEAWU), which recently tore into the Reserve Bank of Malawi and employers for purportedly conniving to exploit workers.
BCCEAWU general secretary, John Obongo Mwafulirwa, told The Workplace last week that workers were suspicious with the manner in which the Central bank has been identifying participants to its sensitization meetings on the new Pension Bill.
Mwafulirwa noted that, while the Ministry of Finance disregarded most of the suggestions proffered by trade unions, and only backtracked on the proposed retirement age limit of 60 to fix it at 50, the Central bank has only empowered employers with information, leaving the worker at a disadvantage in cases of negotiations.
This follows gazetting of Malawi’s new Pension Act, effectively rendering it the guiding principle on pension matters from June 1, 2011.
But Khunga expressed surprise at trade unions’ surprise.
“There is no grain of truth in what the unions are saying about us (employers) conniving with RBM. We categorically deny that. The issue is that the new Pension Act came into force after thorough consultations, and the unions, through the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions, were part of the process,” said Khunga.
Added he: “What is clear, also, is that Malawi’s poor savings culture is coming into play in the trade unions’ arguments. Generally, Malawians are afraid of saving their money because they are afraid of dying before laying their hands on it. Malawians always want to utilise their money immediately, and leave nothing for others.”
On the issue of forcing workers to contribute their funds to pension houses they did not choose, Khunga said the new Act provides for transfer of funds to other houses, “but the cost will be borne by the employer, and not employee. After all, it is the employee who wants the money transferred”.
“In fact, the most interesting thing about the new Act is that it allows people who have been laid off to apply to the RBM Registrar (Director of Pensions and Insurance), whom may, then, pay such individuals part of their monetary contribution to keep them going as they look for another job,” said Khunga.
He asked employees to realise that pension funds contributed towards national economic development because they could be invested in productive activities.
However, Khunga acknowledged that there were delays in forming the committee comprised of three employees’ representatives as well as an equal representative number for employers.
Ecam, which has over 200 registered members, was established in 1963 as a representative organisation for agriculture-sector players, notably tea estates from the tea belt of Mulanje and Thyolo.
However, the organisation has evolved into a national body over the years, in stark contrast to the situation between 1963 and 1990 when it was regarded as an organisation for Southern region employers.
Ecam is the only employers’ organisation recognized in Chapter 54, Part 111 of the Labour Relationjs Act of 1996.

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