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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Malawi

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Malawi, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 18 December 2017]
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: 15,300,000
Capital: Lilongwe
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

An electricity workers' leader was threatened with possible imprisonment for seeking to negotiate year-end bonuses, and 50 workers were dismissed for going on strike over the same issue. Unions reported strong employer resistance to organising. Collective bargaining is strenuous, and striking workers are not protected against reprisals.

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.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Bingu wa Mutharika, founder of the Democratic Progress Party, won a resounding victory in presidential elections held in May 2009, winning a second term in office.

Employer resistance: Since barely 12% of workers are in formal employment, the labour legislation automatically excludes the vast majority of workers in the informal economy. For the small minority in formal jobs, the resistance of some employers, and the government, towards respecting their rights, limits freedom of association and collective bargaining. Speaking to the press in June 2009 Ronald Mbewe, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), said most employers were reluctant to work with trade unions. His views were echoed by Mary Dzinyemba, general secretary for Commercial Industrial and Allied Workers Union (CIAWU), who said employers preferred to have workers who were ignorant of their rights. Many companies in the EPZs also resist union activity, while the unions complain that they have little access to workers in the zones.

No collective bargaining for informal sector workers: The workers in the informal economy have organised themselves into a union, the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector (MUFIS), and have since been affiliated to the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU), but it took them over two years to get registered with the Ministry of Labour, as they point out that the union had no negotiating partner. The MCTU has reported in recent years on a number of cases where workers have been badly mistreated, and where employers have appeared unaware that workers have employment rights by law.

Right to strike opposed: Legal ambiguities in the application of the right to strike are making it very hard to exercise this right. For instance, the law does not specify exactly which services are essential, enabling the authorities to declare strikes illegal. The length of the procedure is also problematic.

Child labor in Malawi's tobacco farms: A report released in August by the international children's organisation "Plan" revealed the plight of some 78,000 children working on Malawi's tobacco farms and exposed to potentially toxic levels of nicotine.

Strikers sacked: On 10 December, the Electricity Supply Company of Malawi (ESCOM) sacked 50 workers for their leading role in a sit-in that began three days earlier over demands for a year-end bonus.

Government interference: On 14 December, the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) ordered the president of the Workers' Union at the Electricity Supply Company of Malawi (ESCOM) not to conduct any negotiations or organise the employees with a view to demanding a year-end bonus from management or the board. The notice was issued in response to an industrial action begun a week earlier. Failure by the ESCOM Workers' Union president to observe the order was punishable by a fine of MK 200,000 or 14 years imprisonment.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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