A report commissioned by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Manpower Development has called for the abolition of the tenancy labour system in the countries tobacco plantations.
The report, which was validated by various stakeholders at a workshop in Blantyre, has also called for the introduction of social security measures for workers to be affected by the abolition of the tenancy system.
It has also called for the amendment of the Employment Act of 2000 to regulate labour relations in tobacco estates.
Among others things, the report reveals that the tenancy system in Malawi is associated with serious forms of exploitation such as forced labour practices, discrimination and violation of human rights and low wages.
Tenancy employment does not also involve written contract agreements between employers and the tenants.
ILO senior standards specialist, Christina Holmgren, said it is high time Malawi took tangible steps in the issue of tobacco tenancy system which has been outstanding for the past 20 years.
Holmgren said ILO would like to see Malawi taking steps in dealing with the issue although she said the actual abolishment may not be immediate considering the future welfare of the tenants after losing their jobs in the plantations.
“One step at a time, no matter how small it is, but this issue has to be dealt with. We cannot continue talking about the plight of tenants and the poor conditions they are exposed to if we are not ready to start taking tangible actions about it,” said Holmgren.
Chancellor College lecturer, Ngeyi Kanyongolo – who was one of the consultants in the research and production of the report, revealed during a presentation that tenants in tobacco estates don’t usually sign employment contracts and are subjected to the poorest working conditions.
“They live in overcrowded housing, with 19.4 percent of tenants staying in houses where over seven people use one room for sleeping. The whole tenant family is involved in tobacco production, where the husband is enrolled but his wife and children work without pay,” said Kanyongolo.
Forced labour, child labour, discrimination against women and in some cases serious violations of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights are some of the challenges tenants in Malawi continue to face.
Deputy commissioner for labour, Wafwile Musukwa, said the tenancy system in Malawi needs to be dealt with caution, while taking into account the welfare of the workers after losing their jobs in the plantations.
He said disagreements among stakeholders have derailed progress to the extent that little has been done.
“Government’s observation is that the debates and even studies have focused on the economic side while completely overshadowing the human rights aspect,” said Musukwa
The report further recommends that reforms in development planning, labour and employment should be introduced and that there should be periodic monitoring and evaluation of social policies to evaluate their impact on the provision of social, economic and cultural rights.