The Judiciary support staff on Monday started a nationwide strike following what they call government’s non-commitment to resolve their grievances.
The workers who include court clerks, court marshals, drivers, interpreters ,court reporters and those working in the administration and human resources department have been demanding that Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe should release money for their housing allowances which they say Parliament approved in July last year just like it did with judicial officers.
The support staff are also demanding that their conditions of service be harmonized with those of judicial officers—judges and magistrates.
Even though the strike did not turn violent, the workers who spent the whole day chanting around the courts, among others; blocked the main entrance to the Blantyre High Court using old tyres, tree branches and rocks.
Speaking in an interview, spokesperson for the Judiciary support staff Andy Haliwa said they are disappointed with the laxity by the authorities to resolve the matter and will only return to work when all their grievances are addressed.
In May this year, they started an industrial strike which was cancelled few hours later after being served with an injunction obtained by the office of the Attorney General (AG) restraining them from proceeding with their strike.
The office of the AG and judiciary management branded the strike illegal and obtained the injunction on the basis that it did not comply with Section 44 of the Labour Relations Act which makes it mandatory requirement to give reconciliation or dialogue a chance.
However, the support staff vacated the injunction on June 30 and as part of the conditions for the discharge, they were ordered to appoint a re-conciliator within the period of seven days and conclude the reconciliation processes within 21 days.
Both parties settled for renowned lawyer Modecai Msisha senior counsel (SC) as a conciliator, but according to Haliwa, up to now nothing tangible has been registered.
According to Haliwa as per condition, the support staff submitted all necessary documents but the office of the AG has not yet responded or given any feedback on the issue.
“We will continue with the strike, even if they obtain an injunction we will not relent. We are ready to be charged with contempt of court and if they want to arrest us all, let them do so,”
We just heard that they have served our Lawyer Lusungu Gondwe with a consent order so that we proceed with the reconciliation processes and that the court add more days to the reconciliation period, but we will not sign it…,” said Haliwa.
Commenting on the matter, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson Apoche Itimu said the parties are still engaging each other and it is the ministry’s hope that both parties will reach an amicable resolution.
“As to approval of housing allowances of ‘support staff’ as opposed to ‘judicial officers’ I am not aware of such approval as Parliament is only involved with regulating the Terms and conditions for judicial staff and not support staff,” she said.
Their grievances date back to 2014 when they started pushing for a 45 percent salary increment but when government approved a 46 percent increment to all mainstream civil servants, they only got 18 percent and now they want the difference.