There is no end in sight for the staff standoff at State grain marketer Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc), as the corporation has extended the paid leave period for all employees with one month.
The forced leave decision, which was effected on August 30 2022 by former Agriculture minister Lobin Lowe, will end on December 31 2022, instead of November 30 as earlier announced, The Daily Times has learned.
This is despite that the government recently announced that the corporation will bounce back on December 1, opening of all depots across the country to facilitate selling of maize.
The reopening of Admarc will come exactly three months after the grain marketer was abruptly closed on August 30 by Lowe due to what he described as high levels of corruption, theft and professional negligence at the institution.
Presenting a report to Parliament on maize sales by Admarc last week, Agriculture Minister Sam Kawale indicated that Admarc will sell maize at K300 per kilogramme (kg) or K15,000 per 50 kg bag.
Commentators, including Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture Chairperson Sameer Suleman, had hoped that Admarc’s staff would play a key role in reopening of depots.
However, in a circular to all of the members of staff, Admarc Head of Human Resource and Administration Ethel Zilirakhasu indicates that the force leave duration has been extended.
She indicates that the changes have come about because corporate restructuring and retrenchment exercises have not been completed.
“… The leave was to end on November 30 2022 with the hope that all activities, including retrenchment, would have been completed.
“However, to date, the activities have not been completed, “Zilirakhasu’s communication reads.
She says, in the circular, that the company plans for 100 percent retrenchment on December 16 2022.
She adds that workers that will be asked to work beyond the date in question will be engaged on a month-to-month contract.
This, according to the communication, will largely be due to the opening of Admarc depots on December 1 2022 in which some employees will be asked to help with maize sales and agriculture inputs under the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP).
“The employees to be involved in the selling of maize and stock management in these markets during this period will be the skeleton staff.
“However, this does not mean that they will not be retrenched thereafter,” the communication adds.
Payment of the retrenchment package, which official communication shows will cost taxpayers about K8.9 billion, is planned for December 23 2022 after which, according to Zilirakhasu, all positions in Admarc will be advertised externally and that the current employees of the corporation will be afforded an opportunity to compete.
The exercise, according to Kawale, is expected to reduce the workforce in Admarc from 4,000 to between 1,000 and 4,000.
Meanwhile, government is yet to pay three months salaries for Admarc workers since September, despite sending them on paid leave.
Zilirakhasu has said in the letter that government has provided funding for September and October salaries, so far, and that it has committed to do the same for November and December pay checks.
Asked if the extension will not delay the restructuring process, Kawale said the government’s goal is to do everything correctly and within confines of labour laws in an effort to create a smooth transition from the old Admarc to a new one.
He added that funds have been secured for all due payments.
“The Ministry of Agriculture has secured the funds. That is why we have proceeded with the retrenchment. Salary arrears will be paid and then terminal benefits will be paid,” Kawale said.
He added that his vision is for an Admarc that fits into the Malawi 2063 vision of the agriculture sector, with particular focus on commercialisation.
Meanwhile, Suleman has said the government was wrong to shut down the State owned grain trader and send workers on forced leave.
Lowe and the then-board chairperson Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi said the decision was aimed at curbing the alleged culture of theft, corruption and professional negligence in the corporation.