Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2017, 12:58 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Malawi

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Malawi, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 12 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

The Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) complained that points tabled by the unions and agreed to in tripartite negotiations were missing from the final draft of the amended Employment Act. A MCTU march was stopped by police due to a technicality. Collective bargaining is strenuous, and striking workers are not protected against reprisals.


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.


Background: In August the first local elections in more than a decade were postponed again. The trade unions organised a national protest in November against a bill to set the retirement age above average life expectancy. More than half the population still lives below the poverty line and tens of thousands of Malawians die of AIDS every year.

Employer resistance: Barely 12% of workers are in formal employment. 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 export processing zones (EPZ) 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: Workers in the informal economy have organised themselves into a union, the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector (MUFIS), and have been affiliated to the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU). It took over two years to register MUFIS with the Ministry of Labour as they noted that the union had no negotiating partner. The MCTU has, in recent years, reported on a number of cases where workers have been badly mistreated and where employers have appeared unaware that workers have employment rights by law.

Child and bonded labour on tobacco plantations: A documentary made for Britain's Channel 4 programme "Unreported World" aired in June 2010, highlighting the ongoing use of child labour in tobacco harvesting. A group of women and children, some just toddlers, were filmed sorting tobacco leaves at the side of the road. One woman with three children helping her said that she would earn around one euro for the day's work. Many tenant farmers also suffer from very low wages and have to borrow money from the farm owners. They end up in debt, becoming bonded labourers. Child labour is illegal in Malawi, but is tolerated by the authorities. There are no trade union rights for child or bonded labourers.

Tripartite decisions not respected: The Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) protested in July against the newly adopted Employment Act (Amendment) bill, saying it discriminated against lower paid workers. It also protested that several of the concerns raised by trade unions were not accommodated in the final document and that some of the clauses agreed on in tripartite discussions were changed in the final document.

Police stop trade union march: On 16 November the police stopped a march by the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) to present a petition to parliament urging it not to go ahead with the Pensions Bill. The bill would raise the retirement age to 55 for women and 60 for men, in a country where average life expectancy is only 50 years. The police claimed that the Lilongwe City Council had failed to give the police due notice of the march. The march went ahead two days later.

Government interference: The Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) wrote to the Minister of Labour, Yunus Bussa, in December protesting at remarks he had made saying the MCTU was acting at the instigation of Vice-president, Joyce Banda. Mr. Bussa was referring to the march organised by the MCTU in November against the bill to raise the pension age. The MCTU objected strongly to this act of interference in their affairs and the use of false allegations to make it a political scapegoat. It said it had never discussed the bill with the Vice-president.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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