Minister of Labour Eunice Makangala surprised striking workers at Mota-Engil Railway construction site in Mwanza last week when she faulted bad labour laws that Malawi is practising which she said gives a loophole for manipulation.

Workers for Mota-Engil, the company that has been contracted by Brazilian mining group, Vale, to construct rail line from Moatize in Tete Province to Nacala Port in Mozambique through Malawi, are demanding salary increment and repatriation of Thai casual labourers whom they accuse of taking away their jobs.

“As government, we have to concede that we have a problem on our part,” said the Minister before adding: “Our laws are weak and people take advantage of that and this is the reason we find our hands tied.”

She said although government was willing to help, it was limited by the current laws.

“In our laws there is no restriction on who can come or cannot come to work in this country,” she said.

Makangala also said when the Chinese were constructing the Bingu International Conference Centre in Lilongwe, she saw Chinese labourers pushing wheelbarrows with concrete, something that Malawians could do but still there was nothing that government could do.

The minister said she had, however, agreed with the management to return some of the Thai nationals at the site because they do not have any skills.

Although the strike ended on Friday, twice a high powered government delegation led by the minister failed to reach a compromise with the striking workers.

Managing Director for Mota Engil Malawi Jose Dinis da Silva said following long discussions with the workers, they were looking forward to the implementation of the agreement and resumption of work on Monday.

“The agreement tackles all the concerns of our employees and brings increased benefits to all.”

The US$1billion (over K328 billion) railway project in Mwanza and Neno stalled following the crumble of mediation talks which were being spearheaded by government in an effort to end a strike that started on Monday.

The Wednesday failure to reach a compromise was the second one after talks crumbled again on Tuesday when Makangala failed to contain striking workers who were demanding equal pay to the one being given to foreign workers.

When mediations resumed on Wednesday, workers agreed on the 60 percent salary increment but surprised the minister and officials of Mota-Engil when they made a sudden U-turn to demand a different package.

“The workers are saying those that are receiving K36, 000 should now start getting K380, 000 after all the deductions or K450, 000 before deductions which is unrealistic,” said Makangala.

She said on the premise of bad laws, it was difficult to negotiate with Mota-Engil because the statutory minimum wage is currently pegged at K8, 242 per month. – By Gregory Gondwe

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