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Government trashes Tenancy Labour Bill

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Twenty-one years after drafting the first Tenancy Labour Bill, the government has indicated that it is no longer interested in the bill as the enactment of such a law is tantamount to sanctioning slavery that characterises the tenancy labour system in the country’s tobacco industry.

The Tenancy Labour Bill was first drafted in 1995, was redrafted in 2005 and forwarded to the Cabinet in 2010 and went closer to Parliament in 2013.

Minister of Labour, Henry Mussa, has likened tenancy labour to ‘thangata’ of the colonial era and said the government prefers wage bill system, which is being practised in tea and sugarcane estates, to legalising abusive tenancy labour.

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Mussa said tenancy labour is exposing many children to child labour and human trafficking and the country cannot continue walking on that path.

He said instead of the Tenancy Labour Bill, the government will amend the Employment Act of 2000 to accommodate the wage bill system.

“There is a chain of slavery in which all family members, including small children of school going age, are forced to work not for money but a bag of beans and a bag of maize or some relish. These tenants go for nine months without pay and when they are paid they are paid very little [a practice] which is unacceptable and needs to be abolished forthwith,” Mussa said.

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He told stakeholders’ meeting on tenancy labour in Lilongwe, yesterday to discuss what the country needs to do with people who are tenants.

The meeting attracted tenants, employers, Tobacco Association of Malawi officials, trade unionists and Ministry of Labour officers, among others.

Employers Consultative Association of Malawi Programmes Officer, Emmanuel Magomero, said the stakeholders need to come up with proper ways of supporting the tenants after the abolishment of tenancy labour system.

“We are equally concerned with tenancy labour and it is our wish that it be abolished. However, we do not need to be emotional in our discussions. There are some issues that we need to consider before adopting the system being proposed. We need to ask ourselves questions like: what happens to those people who are tenants; how do we move them to their homes; what will they be doing in their respective homes?

“How do tobacco growers discuss wages with their employees in a market of tobacco whose prices are not predictable? We need to consider all that as we seek solution to the challenges that our brothers and sisters are facing due to tenancy labour system,” Magomero said.

Tobacco & Allied Workers Union of Malawi secretary general and Malawi Congress of Trade Unions executive member, Raphael Sandram, described tenancy labour as an embarrassment to Malawi.

“If tobacco is our gold, all the people that are participating in its production, including tenants, are supposed to benefit from it. We have decided to do away with tenancy labour system and find a better system,” Sandram said.

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