MCTU PRESS CONFERENCE ON COVID-19
Date:20th of May-2020
Venue: Crown Hotel Lilongwe
Malawi congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) has 26 affiliated trade unions with over 300,000 members, working in all sectors of the economy in Malawi. MCTU exist to promote and protect workers’ rights irrespective of their employment status.
Cases of Covid-19 are increasing in Malawi and as of 17th of May, 2020 we stand at 70 cases. Covid-19 is a health crisis and it has devastating economic, and social impact on businesses, workers and households. Covid-19 has changed business landscape for instance companies have slowed production while others are closing down, workers are receiving reduced salaries, while some are being retrenched without following prescribed steps in the Labour Relations. In order to manage Covid-19 and its impact on the economy, business, workers and households there is a serious need to involve various stakeholders.
To date MCTU has made various demands and proposed recommendations to both government and employers on how to manage Covid-19 and its impact. For instance, on the 26th of March and 1st of May 2020 MCTU presented its demands and recommendations to government through Tripartite labour Advisory Council (TLAC) meeting and Labour Day commemoration respectively. Below is a summary of the demands and recommendations that were made:
- All work places or public institutions should observe sanitation and hygienic measures and conditions.
- Allocate enough funds to central and district hospitals from the Covid-19 Emergency Fund: –
- Increase Covid-19 testing centers and isolation rooms
- Recruit more Health Workers
- Increase risk allowance for healthy personals
- All work places or public institutions or areas to be frequently monitored to ensure that they are following all preventive measures announced by government and the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Establish a stabilization fund to cushion companies and institutions in the private sector that have been hit hard by the Covid-19 impact such as Hotels industry and private schools. This will enhance job protection.
- Reduce water and electricity tariffs and suspend disconnections.
- Reduce pump fuel price to respond not only to fuel reduction on the international market but also to the impact of Covid-19
- Government through the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) to offer flexible and affordable financial services to all.
- Government to increase disposable income for all workers and households
- Lower interests’ rates on loans
- Remove VAT on food and essential non-food items
- Increase tax free (PAYEE)bracket from Mk 40,000 to Mk 100,000
- Reduced transaction fees both bank and mobile money
- Prioritize social dialogue and ensure that all workplaces have function Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs).
- Restrict movement and strongly monitor all entry points into Malawi
- Allow flexible working hours and shift reporting to work
- Suspend all non-essential services
- Government to provide financial packages, cash transfer, supply of free food to vulnerable workers especially those in the informal economy
- Establish a universal social protection system
- Finalize the implementation of the Workers’ Compensation Fund
- Adhere to all International Labour Standards especially those guiding nations on how to manage Covid-19 and its impact
- Include MCTU into all Covid-19 decision making bodies.
MCTU wishes to thank government for paying attention to the demands and recommendation that we made. We are happy that Government has responded positively to some of the issues we raised through various platforms. For instance Government has:
- Established the Emergency Cash Transfer Program to serve small scale business traders and a monthly amount of Mk 35,000 to be transferred to 172,000 households for a period of 6 months.
- Allocated MK 15 billion to MEDF to allow Micro Small and Medium Scale businesses (MSMS) to easily access business loans.
- Appointed MCTU President into the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19.
- Constantly consulted MCTU through Ministry of Labour under the tripartite arrangement on issues of Covid-19.
- Established 5 more testing centers, with the target to open 15 more in June, 2020.
- Opened institutional isolation centers and treatment centers in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu.
- Recruited 2000 newly health workers
- Procured Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs)
- Increased Risk Allowance for Healthcare Workers
- Procured sanitary and protective items
- Waived Tax on items used to fight covid-19
- Plans to recruit 1,500 health surveillance assistants
- Government through the Reserve bank of Malawi (RBM) reduced interest rates on bank loans and other financial services
- TNM and Airtel reduced transaction costs.
- Waived fees and charges on electronic payments
- Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) opened a voluntary tax compliance window for a period of 6 months to allow tax payers with arrears to settle their tax obligations in instalments without penalty.
- Reduced fuel prices twice.
- As much as MCTU is excited with the aforementioned government interventions, we have noted that some proposed interventions have not been taken on board and these include:
- Increase tax free threshold PAYE from MK 40,000 to MK 100,000.
- Finalization of the Workers’ Compensation fund
- Establishment of a comprehensive Social Protection Fund
- Ensure that Tripartite Labour Advisory Council (TLAC) is fully revamped and operational
We therefore urge government to urgently consider the above because:
- Retrenched workers are being made more vulnerable in the absence of a function Workers Compensation Fund and a Universal Social Protection System.
- Allocate more funds to the Ministry of Labour to revamp TLAC and intensify workplace inspections.
- Increase tax free(PAYE) bracket from Mk 40,000 to Mk 100,000 so that workers in the lower wage bracket have more disposal income.
- MCTU urge government to full fill all the plans put in place to fight and mitigate the impact of Covid-19 which includes:
- Plans to recruit 1,500 health surveillance assistants
- Open 15 more testing centers
- Protection and prevention of frontline workers through provision of PPEs and relevant training.
- Kick start the Emergency Cash Transfer Program
- Government to seriously consider putting in place legal and policy frameworks on how to handle pandemics in the world of work
- Include more workers’ representatives in Covid-19 national technical working groups.
- Government to institute bail out mechanisms of all companies and institutions such as Hotels and private schools so that they sustain their wage bills and retain workers at their workplaces.
- MCTU also urge government to carefully reflect and put in place measures that will control how political parties are conducting their rallies, as they are exposing many people to a risk of contracting the virus.
- City and district councils must engage SMEs in all markets and uphold the principle of social dialogue where MCTU through MUFIS is actively involved. And also enforce compulsory use of face masks by all market users.
- Lastly MCTU would like to remind and urge all employers to:
- Constantly consult their workers on all decisions affecting workers through bipartite set up
- Develop and put in place Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA)
MCTU has noted with shock that some employers are making unilateral decisions like reducing salaries of workers, forcing worker to go on unpaid leave and in some cases retrench them without following proper procedures. MCTU would like to warn all employers that making unilateral decisions on employment matters is unconstitutional and punishable by the law. It is important that employers prioritize consultation with their employees before making any decision that affects workers. MCTU and its affiliates are following proper procedures to take all those employers that have made unilateral decisions to the Industrial Relations Court (IRC).
Denis Charela Kalekeni
20th of May,2020