Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Malawi and Poor Perks/Workers Exploitation

By Richard Chirombo
As the cost of living continues to escalate, some workers are living
on a K4, 700 monthly basic salary, raising questions about the
survival mechanisms they employ to see their budget through the month.
Investigations carried out between Wednesday and Thursday revealed
that workers at G4S, a multi-national security firm, are among those
earning a monthly basic salary of K4, 700 a month.
The workers are also among the least paid in the Southern African
Development Community region, cutting home less than the regional
average of US$150 (K24, 300) applicable to people in similar jobs in
such countries as Zambia.
Two workers who spoke to The Sunday Times in Blantyre Central Business
District (CBD) confirmed receiving K4, 700.
One of the workers revealed how he survives on such a basic salary,
and meet his daily needs.
“Of course, the money is too little. However, because I have no
choice, I have become meticulous in the way I budget for whole month,”
said one of the guards manning a commercial bank’s ATM machine in
Blantyre CBD.
He explained how he has manages to do that: “Because I cannot manage
to pay rentals, due to the high cost of housing in Blantyre, I decided
to be staying with two workmates. We contribute equally towards
The guard, who stays in Mbayani Township, added that he supplements
his salary by working part-time during the day, a development he said
leads to fatigue.
“I often sleep while on duty. I think it is better to be tired while
knowing that you have a bag of maize, relish, and a pair on new
trousers. I just feel sad when assigned on the day-shift because it
means losing out on piece works, “he said, revealing that he started
working for G4S four months ago.
Another worker said he struggled to pay K2, 500 rental fees for the
month of July, the time he started work this year, but has solved the
problem by inviting a former classmate who mends shoes in Zingwangwa
He also said he supplements his income by working in people’s gardens,
washing cars, and carpets.
“I need, at least, between K15, 000 and K16, 000 to meet my monthly
needs. I, therefore, depend on other unofficial duties to meet food,
housing and transport needs. In addition, I am skilled at repairing
electrical appliances to make up for the gap in my salary,” he said.
One of the guards who has been with the company for 20 years revealed
that he currently receives K12, 000 as basic salary, while another
worker- who started working for the company in April 2009- said his
basic salary is pegged at K5,580.
Two of the guards interviewed further revealed that union leaders have
been agitating for an industrial action, saying, if current conditions
do not improve, G4S workers could be forced to go on strike come
February 1, 2012.
When contacted to comment on the workers’ concerns, G4S Human
Resources Director, Nargis Khan, could neither confirm nor deny that
some of the company’s workers receive K4, 700 as basic salary.
However, Khan decried the tendency by some workers to only “dwell on
the basic salary, instead of talking about gross salary”, saying this
was creating a negative impression that K4, 700 is the whole take-home
“When it comes to salaries, people often talk of only one thing (basic
salary), instead of talking about the gross salary. Let me say,
however, that it is difficult for me to tell you how much, in gross
salary, workers take home because people in different categories
receive different packages,” Khan said.
Malawi’s current minimum wage is K178.25, which translates into K4,
633 when multiplied by 26 working days that constitute a local guard’s
month. This means G4S adds an extra K67 on top of its least-paid
workers’ wage bill, and is not breaking any law under the country’s
labour laws.
Khan also responded to reports that local G4S workers are among the
least paid in the region. She said workers’ salaries are
country-based, and depend on the economic conditions prevailing in
different countries.
“As a journalist in Malawi, do you think your average salary can match
the average salary being received by a journalist in South Africa? Do
you think that South African journalists receive salaries similar to
those applicable to their counterparts in the United Kingdom?
“Salaries correspond to the economies of scale. May be our economists
should carry out a comprehensive comparative economic analysis of the
region and come up with a clear picture on what should be applied in
our economy,” Khan said.
However, a top official in the union that represents security workers,
including G4S guards, in the country confirmed being approached by
some guards over plans to stage a sit–in.
Textile, Garments, Leather and Security Services Workers Union
(TGLSSWU) deputy general secretary, Macdonald Chuma, said, while he
sympathized with the workers, he has advised them to “keep their
patience” because TGLSSWU is already negotiating with G4S. His
sentiments were corroborated by Khan, who confirmed that discussions
with the union over improved working conditions were in progress.
“In fact, it is not only guards who are receiving K4, 700 that have
approached us; we also have people who have been working for years and
feel that, looking at the escalating cost of basic commodities, pay
rises are in order. Our stand is that, ‘No’, such action is not
necessary at the moment. Perhaps people can do that if current
negotiation effort fail,” Chuma said, adding:
“In fact, some G4S workers have told us that, if the negotiations drag
to February, then, they will go on a sit-in. But, as a union, we are
trying our best to conclude the negotiations without any labour,
unrest, or industrial action. Should every tactic in the book fail,
then, we will definitely know what to do.”
According to Chuma, a guard who receives K4, 700 as basic salary is
entitled to a 50 percent (of basic salary) overtime and 10 percent (of
the basic salary) as house allowance.
“This means that a worker receiving K4, 700 gets K470 as house
allowance,” Chuma said, describing the figure as “very much on the
lower side”.
In total, basic salary plus house allowance and over time comes to a
gross monthly salary of K7, 520.
Reports of poor perks come at a time when the country’s economy is
going through a bad patch. Finance and Development Planning Minister,
Ken Lipenga, told Parliament in November that the economy would slow
down by 0.9 percent, from 6.9 percent to 6 percent, in the 2011/2012
fiscal year.
In addition, International Monetary Fund’s 2011 estimates hint that
the local economy will grow by a meagre 2 percent, sharply contrasting
the 6 percent growth rates that characterized Malawi’s economic
performance for the past five years.
Also coming into the gloomy picture is the 2011 United Nations
Development Programme Index Report. The report, which evaluates
people’s freedoms and capabilities to lead lives that they value and
have reason to value, ranks Malawi poorly, as evidenced by the
country’s decline from position 153 in 2010 to 171 this year.
The Centre for Social Concern (CfSC), in its November Food Basket
Report, described the situation as a tell-tale sign of economic
malaise. CfSC programme officer for social conditions, Alex Nkosi,
said this meant “…that the economic gains that Malawi has garnered in
the recent past are not making a real dent in the pervasive poverty to
enable significant improvements in social conditions”.
According to CfSC, this is characterized by upward movements in the
cost of living as espoused in CfSC’s Urban Basic Needs Basket for
November. The basket pointed to increased prices on products such as
Maize, Beans, Usipa, Utaka, Kapenta and Bread.
Said the report: “For instance, the price of maize has surged upwards
tremendously. Mzuzu, the hardest hit, has witnessed an average maize
price rise by 28.2% (K2, 200 per 50kg bag) in November as compared to
average price in October which was at K1580.
“On average, the same trend has been observed in all the major cities:
in Lilongwe it went up by 11%, Zomba 13% and in Blantyre maize
registered an increase of 10%. Most sellers in the market attribute
the increase to scarcity of the commodity and an increase in the cost
of transportation.”

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