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Escom employees threaten strike

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About 2,500 employees of the Electricity Corporation of Malawi (Escom) across the country have threatened to go on strike, by Monday next week, if government fails to come out clear on the splitting of the utility body.

Government through the Ministry of Energy intends to unbundle Escom into two entities with one focusing on power generation and the other dealing with transmission and distribution to increase efficiency in the sector.

The development has brought anxiety among workers at the parastatal as they fear for their jobs and they have been demanding to be paid separation packages.

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The workers have made their stand in a statement that The Daily Times has seen.

“We Escom members of staff hereby sincerely notify the general public that we are to withdraw our labour at the expiry of our notice period (30th November 2015) served to our employers and government following the failure by Ministry of Labour to reconcile the two parties,” reads part of the statement which has been signed by Escom Workers Union President and Secretary General Patrick Nadzanja and Joseph Kamwendo, respectively.

According to a model that was to be used to split Escom, the corporation will cease to exist and two new companies.

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But a considerable period of time and discussions, government adopted a different model for the unbundling that will maintain the distribution and transmission units within the restructured Escom and include two more business units and a separate company for generation of electricity.

“Having noted the uncertainty in job security after the unbundling and the previous negative experiences of employees after restructuring of government entities and the reluctance to issue individual letters to employees of assurance of continued employment and maintenance of the prevailing conditions of service, we members of staff at Escom declared a dispute with the Principal Secretary for Labour and invoked all necessary procedures for mediation as stipulated in the Labour Relations Act,” the statement states.

It goes on to say staff at the utility company hope that the Principal Secretary who is the only arbitrator in labour disputes would facilitate a tripartite negotiation for a possible resolution of the labour dispute. Unfortunately, states the statement, recommendations provided by a representative of the Ministry have not been followed by those in authority.

Reads the statement: “We, therefore, write to sincerely assure the general public that we are not in any way going to shut down our valuable hydro generating machines, but rather completely withdraw our much required labour as this is what all members of staff have unanimously agreed to do in order that fairness and justice should prevail to Escom employees.”

While acknowledging that the employees had served government with the notice of withdrawal of labour, Kamwendo said all negotiation channels remain open.

“As staff, we would like to see the company operating efficiently, but at the same time we also want fairness and justice to prevail. So though we have served government with this notice, all negotiation channels remain open. We will keep on engaging government on this,” he said in a telephone interview.

Meanwhile, spokesperson for Energy Joseph Kalowekamo has maintained that the split will not affect any jobs.

“As government, we would like to assure Escom staff that the unbundling will not affect their jobs. If anything, it will create job opportunities because the new company which will come out of Escom will need new administrators and accountants just to mention a few,” said Kalowekamo.

According to Kalowekamo, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCA) is providing technical and financial support for the split.

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