A pious Lilongwe resident paid for his beliefs when he was summarily dismissed from his job on allegations that he was reading a Bible during working hours.

The Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU) has since expressed surprise at the severity of the punishment, describing it as too harsh because reading a Bible during working hours is not a serious offence that can attract dismissal.

Luke Phiri, who at the time of his dismissal was a Stores Supervisor at Lilongwe Cold Storage Limited – a subsidiary of Central Poultry 2000 Limited, was dismissed in August this year after being with the company since 1978.

A letter of dismissal, signed by Benson Chirwa – a Senior Human Resource and Administration Manager at the company, says management decided to summarily dismiss Phiri from service due to lying and wasting company’s time.

“We write in reference to the hearing we had on 10/08/2012, where you were answering charges of being found reading the Bible during working time and lying to authorities. It was heard that on 8th August, 2012, you were reading the Bible during working time but when asked you denied the allegations and yet the Bible was found on your table,” reads the dismissal letter.

Phiri’s dismissal was with effect from 17th August, 2012.

MCTU deputy General Secretary Grace Nyirenda said the reasons given for Phiri’s dismissal are not satisfactory, arguing that reading a Bible during working hours should not lead to dismissal.

“The punishment was too harsh. The best they could have done was to give him a warning not to do something unrelated to his job during working hours. There could have been about three warning letters before dismissal,” she said.

In an interview Chirwa refused to say anything on the matter, saying that the matter is in court.

“Since the matter is court I can’t say anything to you. The court has not concluded hearing the case, let’s wait for the outcome of the court proceedings after all I am not answerable to the media. Leave me alone please,” he said before cutting the line.

In an interview Phiri said he was fail¬ing to come to terms with his dismissal. He denied being found reading the Bible during working hours although it was his habit to move with a Bible.

“As a Christian it is out of habit that I move about with my Bible even when I am going to work but I only read it during breaks like lunch hour and it is always on my desk,” said Phiri, a devout Catholic.

He said he was invited for a disciplinary hearing on 10th August. The panel comprised the Human Resource Manager (Chirwa), a representative of the Workers Union and another person.

“However, conspicuously missing was the person said to have found me reading the Bible and the people I was serving in my office at the material time I was alleged to have been reading the Bible,” said Phiri.

Phiri said he raised this with the panel but he was ignored. He was subsequently found guilty and was given a letter of suspension pending the final decision.

“In my view the hearing was a kangaroo court because rules of natural justice demands that all the people concerned in a case should be present,” he said.

Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) chairperson Sophie Kalinde said her organisation will investigate the matter before making any comment.

Phiri has since taken his case to the Industrial Relations Court and is being represented by Chagwamnjira and Company.

Lilongwe Cold Storage was once a wholly owned subsidiary of Admarc which was later in 2003 privatised in a management buyout by a team led by its former General Manager Kelvin M’mangisa who later sold it to Central Poultry 2000 Ltd in 2010.

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