By Serah Chilora, Patience Lunda & Mathews Kasanda
The provision of judicial services came to a standstill across the country Monday, following a strike by support staff who want the government to approve their conditions of service.
When The Daily Times visited Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu courts, our reporters were welcomed by tree leaves, which with striking staff blocked entry points.
Singing marked the day at almost all court premises, as judicial officers stopped presiding over cases, with police officers, lawyers and clients being denied entry into court premises.
Malawi Judiciary Union president Charles Lizigeni said union representatives met officials from the Ministry of Finance in November but their requests were yet to be attended to, hence the strike.
“We are a legally accepted union and, as such, our first mode of conflict resolution is dialogue and we did that. We met the Minister of Finance on November 7 2022, when we discussed issues but until now, as I talk, nothing has materialised. So, this action is meant to force them to attend to our grievances. I cannot say when we will stop; that is dependent on when they decide to improve our working conditions,” he said.
Malawi Law Society President Patrick Mpaka described the situation as worrisome, arguing that pending judgements will suffer.
Mpaka said the strike is an inconvenience and urged the two sides of the matter to solve the matter in good time.
“You can see the kind of people that are here; a lot of people have had to return [despite that] the Supreme Court [of Appeal] was sitting to deliver many outstanding judgements. So, it is a serious inconvenience. We were not aware that this was coming and we have just observed [the extent of] the situation this morning.
“We have not understood the nature of concerns that are being discussed. We may not be able to fully comment on their issues; suffice to say that access to justice is a constitutional right fundamentally entrenched in the Constitution and when its enjoyment is at stake like this, I think there would have been better ways of managing this situation,” he said.
When contacted, Minister of Finance Sosten Gwengwe confirmed engaging Judiciary union members on the matter.
While stating that the government made an offer, Gwengwe could not divulge more information, saying the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Appeal and High Court could better explain circumstances surrounding their engagement.
“We engaged them and made them an offer under the circumstances. A letter of what government can afford was sent to them through the Registrar of the High Court,” he said.
However, the registrar— Kondwani Banda— asked for more time before he could comment on the issue as he was in a meeting.
Among other things, the Judiciary members of staff want a salary and allowance increment.
This is not the first time for the members of staff to conduct a strike as they did the same in 2014, 2017 and 2019 on similar grounds.