Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2018, 13:56 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Malawi

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Malawi, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 14,900,000
Capital: Lilongwe

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Threats: 2
Arrests: 8
Dismissals: 8

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Union leaders suffered harassment, dismissal and arrest. Electronic media, tobacco, freight and transport workers all reported anti-union victimisation. Sugar workers were dismissed for calling a strike and electricity workers' leaders were suspended over a pay dispute. A building workers' leader was arrested for organising and leaders of the MTUC received death threats for their part in the July protests.


Civil society protests on 20 July against President Bingu wa Mutharika's increasingly autocratic rule and worsening economic conditions were brutally repressed, leaving 18 dead and scores injured. Civil society, including notably the trade unions, had become increasingly concerned about a raft of recent legislative changes that had systematically curtailed civil liberties and freedom of the press, while increasing the impunity of government agencies and officials. At the same time economic conditions had deteriorated in Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries heavily reliant on foreign aid, after key donors pulled out of the country amid growing concerns over its economic mismanagement.

Trade union rights in law

There is some legal protection for trade union activities, although some gaps remain in the labour law. Workers, including civil servants, have the right to form and join trade unions, and workers sacked because of their union activities must be reinstated. However, unions seeking to bargain collectively face inordinately high representation thresholds. In addition, industrial councils set wages and conditions and resolve disputes in the absence of collective agreements. Only registered unions may strike, and the procedures prior to a strike can be long. Furthermore, all labour disputes must be reported to the Principal Secretary responsible for labour, who shall acknowledge the dispute within seven days and then refer it to conciliation, which can last up to 21 days. Furthermore, the law does not specifically prohibit retaliation against strikers.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Unions ignored: Trade unions are not included in the committees set up by the government to comment on social and economic issues. Union membership is low and many workers, notably those in the lucrative tobacco industry, are illiterate and are not aware that they have rights. The MCTI was included however in the UN-facilitated dialogue set up after the July protests.


Union leader dismissed for attending capacity training course: Kawerama Sonjo, General Secretary of the Shipping and Customs Clearing Agents Trade Union (SCCATU), was dismissed on 20 May by SDV Malawi, a freight forwarding company and subsidiary of the French multinational Bollore. Mr. Sonjo, who founded the union in 2007, had been offered an ILO scholarship to attend a Global Labour University ENGAGE 2011 capacity training course on global economic policies in Germany. He had applied for unpaid leave under the terms set out on the company's leave forms, but was later informed that unpaid leave was no longer part of the company's conditions of service and the inclusion of that possibility on the old leave forms was an "oversight". Mr. Sonjo was dismissed while in Germany for unauthorised absence. He believes the real reason for his dismissal was his trade union activism, noting the company's track record of being anti-union. The company had previously sacked employees for speaking out in favour of forming or joining a trade union, he said. Mr. Sonjo had fought for, and won, recognition of his union as a bargaining agent in court.

Union members dismissed for calling a strike: Seven union members at the Illovo Sugar Company were dismissed because of their involvement in a strike on 14 June. The strike, which only lasted a few hours, was aimed at putting pressure on the company to increase salaries by 20% rather than the industrial relations court ruling of 14%. Workers were issued with summary dismissal letters on four grounds of holding union meetings without leave from the company, holding meetings without knowledge of the company management, unceremoniously changing union leadership and encouraging others to strike. Those dismissed included the Sugar Plantation and Allied Workers Union (SPAWU) vice president Mr. Moses Soko and the Secretary General, Mrs Veronica Kalinde. Before their dismissal union leaders had been the subject of threats and intimidation, and the employer had restricted the union's access to e-mails. In addition to being dismissed, the union leaders were arrested and detained. The dismissed workers appealed against the ruling on the grounds that the recognition agreement between management and the union did not give powers to the employer to discipline an union official for carrying out union activities. The case remained unresolved by the end of the year.

MCTU leaders among those targeted: The Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) reported that some of its officials were the target of serious threats. Many civil society leaders had to go into hiding after the brutal repression of the 20 July protests because they had received death threats and were in fear of their lives.

Union leaders suspended for asking for cost of living adjustment: At the beginning of August the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) suspended Escom Staff Union president Oscar Chimwezi and general secretary Kondwani Kazembe for "spreading false information". In their letter dated 28 July they urged management to implement the cost of living adjustment that they had promised to pay as of 1 July. They also noted that ESCOM staff had not had a salary adjustment for four years.

Union leaders victimised for defending members in merger: Leaders of the Electronic Media Workers' Union (EMWU) were harassed and victimised when they took action to defend their members following the merger of the country's radio and television companies to create the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). The EMW took the company to court in September over what they termed as illegal redeployment, demotion and retrenchment of some MBC staff, as a result of plans to reduce the staff of the merged company from 700 to 413. The court granted an injunction in favour of the union to halt the retrenchments. The MBC appealed the decision and began to harass union leaders according to the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU). The case continued to drag out in the courts.

Arrested and charged for organising: Mr. Ousman Zimba, the Northern Region Organiser for the Building, Construction, Civil Engineering and Allied Workers Union (BCCEAWU) was arrested on 8 November after a visit to the Vizara rubber plantation. He had gone to the plantation at the invitation of Vizara management to finalise disputed severance payments to two employees dismissed a few months previously. After settling the matter he was about to leave for home, 100km away, when he was asked to report to the District Commissioner's office, where he found a police officer, the district Commissioner, Vizara Management and the Labour officer waiting for him. Mr. Zimba was questioned for several hours and then arrested. He was later charged with organising workers without the consent of management. The union had stated recruiting members at the Vizara rubber plantation Company back in 2009 and by November 2011 membership had reached 2,000. Mr. Zimba had written to Vizara management to officially introduce the organised members and organise the election of an interim Committee between 10 and 13 November 2011. Mr. Zimba's case went to court and a verdict was due in January 2012.

Anti union employers target union leaders: In a report to the ITUC the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) listed a number of cases of anti-union employers and the victimisation of union officials. In addition to the cases mentioned above, members of the Tobacco, Tenants and Allied Workers' Union (MTTAWU) faced anti-union victimisation at the hands of multinational companies, while members of the Shipping Customs Union (SCU) faced victimisation of their leadership and violation of their collective bargaining rights by a private employer. The MCTU also named the powerful Mulli Brothers company as being an anti-union employer, discriminating against members of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU). The Commercial Union reported anti-union attitudes by both public and private employers, notably a reluctance to institute the check-off system.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld