The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) says it is worried with the industrial actions by employees working in essential services such as, health and water utilities, which have on a number of occasions disrupted service provision by the sectors.

The human rights watchdog cited strikes staged by staff from Blantyre and Lilongwe Water Boards, Escom, Kamuzu Central Hospital and Zomba Central Hospital.

MHRC Chairperson Sophie Kalinde said, in a statement, that much as her institution sympathises with the demands by the employees from the various essential service delivery institutions, the consequences of their strikes have had disastrous effects on Malawi.

“It is a known fact that water is life and any curtailing of the supply of this service leads to a violation of a number of human rights as provided for in the Republic of Malawi Constitution and the International Human Rights instruments to which Malawi is a party.

“The human rights that may be threatened include the right to water, right to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, right to an adequate standard of living, the right to a clean environment and, above all, the right to life.

“Additionally, the disruption of health services at public hospitals puts the lives of many people; including vulnerable groups like children, women, people with disabilities and the elderly, at great risk.

“Patients cannot access adequate health care services if health employees are on strike. This is an immense threat and, indeed, a violation of the right of life because during the period of strikes or lockout deaths were reported from some health institutions which may have resulted from negligence of striking health employees,” said Kalinde.

According to MHRC, though the Malawi constitution and the Labour Relations Act provide for the right to hold peaceful demonstrations, the right has limitations.

MHRC said the Labour Relations Act is clear that “an employer or employee carrying on or engaged in an essential service shall not strike or lockout in connection with any essential service.”

The Reserve Bank of Malawi on May 7, 2012 devalued the kwacha by 50 percent from K167 to K250 and subsequently floated it. The kwacha now hovers around K305 to the dollar.

This has significantly reduced the buying power of many Malawians forcing them to down their tools in a bid to force their employees to increase their salaries so that they are able to survive the rising cost of living.

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