By Mandy Pondani
Tension is simmering between Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) and some of its former security guards over what the latter is calling unfair treatment and termination of employment.
Over 300 of the security personnel claim they were laid off without following proper procedures, after years of service and the terminal benefits which they received are not commensurate to the period they worked for the utility body.
The concerned former security guards have organised themselves through a WhatsApp group and some members representing their colleagues have said they will drag Escom to court for redress.
Some of the concerned individuals we have talked to are also questioning the corporation’s decision to outsource security services at the expense of serving personnel in the security department which they say is fully fledged.
But Escom Communications Manager Innocent Chitosi has backed the company’s decisions, saying they are within the law and the choice is cost-effective for an institution which he said is working hard at cutting costs.
Speaking in an interview William Msiska who joined Escom on August 20, 1996, alleged he was offered permanent employment until 2011 when alongside others he was asked to undergo interviews.
“In 2011, they informed us that management had decided to declare us temporary members of staff and we were asked to sign documents in that regard, after sometime, some of us were shortlisted for interviews and underwent subsequent training in firearm handling, with a promise of permanent placements,” he explained.
After the training which took place at Bwengu in Rumphi, according to Msiska, he and others who succeeded were told that had been offered permanent employment again effective August 31, 2011.
“After three months, we were shocked when we were presented with other documents to sign and communicated to that we have been reverted to the temporary status, that was the beginning of our problems because we were eventually laid off earlier this year,” he added.
Msiska said he got K127,500 as terminal benefits after his contract was terminated, an amount he said is not enough considering the time he served the corporation.
Speaking separately, another ex-employee who opted for anonymity but based at Livingstonia said he got K87,000 as gratuity after he was fired.
He also wondered why the corporation is now outsourcing security services from private companies and Malawi Police Service at the expense of security guards that it retained after the trainings, apart from those that were retrenched.
“We engaged the union but nothing materialised, we are now suffering and unable to fend for our families. We are over 300 officers from all the three regions of the country, they spent resources in training us, only to get rid of us,” he said.
Escom’s workers’ union Secretary General William Mnyamula refused to comment when contacted referring us to Chitosi who said the corporation decided to outsource part of its security responsibilities to cut down on expenditure, adding it did not outsource the whole security department.
“The institution pays about K54 million per month for 520 outsourced security guards against approximately K260 million per month if it was to have in-house guards. The K260 million arises from salaries, overtime, personal protective equipment, pension contribution, medical scheme and other fringe benefits,” Chitosi explained.
He then said Escom deploys 680 guards in 126 stations, substations, centres and offices countrywide with an average of five guards per installation. revenue halls, faults centres and offices countrywide with an average of five guards per installation.
Commenting on the matter from a legal perspective, renowned lawyer Tadala Chimkwezule said the law does not prescribe how long a person can be engaged in temporary employment and how terminal benefits should be calculated but described the expectations of the complainants as valid.
“It’s at the discretion of an employer; they can train you and let you go. Those concerned people can claim legitimate expectation but it only works if there was prior written agreement between the two parties,” she said.
Meanwhile, social commentator George Phiri has advised the aggrieved former workers to seek legal redress while calling for investigations into the matter, expressing fear that public institutions sometimes flout procurement procedures when outsourcing services, thus breeding fraud and corruption.
In July last year, Escom asked government for bailout of its accumulated debts of about K96 billion, a request which Finance Minister Felix Mlusu trashed this year, challenging the institution to devise an own turnaround strategy.