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Nation on strike

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HALTED—Trucks

Drivers Union in the Northern Region on Saturday blocked roads and stopped all big vehicles from moving on the roads in protest against authorities’ failure to provide them with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) against the Coronavirus.

During the protests, the drivers also expressed anger towards sentiments that Secretary for Health Dan Namarika made, alleging that most of the truck drivers operating between Malawi and neighboring countries do not adhere to the 14-day mandatory quarantine stipulated by the government.

Speaking in an interview chapter representative Chisomo Chipeta said drivers have been complaining about the PPEs for long but to no avail.

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He said the drivers carry essential goods and materials across countries despite putting their lives at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

“Our bosses do not care about our lives. They do not provide us with PPEs and risk allowances. We have been telling them several times but they seem not to care. Therefore, we are blocking all big vehicles. All of us drivers have come together in solidarity to show our anger and disappointment,” Chipeta said.

Speaking separately, spokesperson for the Truck Drivers Union in Malawi Paul Kachitsa announced of their continued strike in Blantyre on the same matter, following the failure by government to respond to their letter of April 9, 2020.

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In the letter, the association asked the Ministry of Health to facilitate for the provision of PPEs and risk allowances.

“Drivers have decided to put stop wheels of the country’s economy due to the negligence of our authorities. We want hand sanitizers, masks and gloves on top of risk allowances. Prices of things have gone up during this period, no truck driver can afford the items on their own,” Kachitsa said.

When called for comment spokesperson in the Ministry of Transport James Chakwera said the drivers’ concerns are valid in the wake of Covid-19.

He, however, said matter of risk allowances can be discussed with employers.

“As government, we can advise the employers to provide PPEs to the drivers but on allowances, as government we cannot regulate,” Chakwera said.

Chakwera, however, admitted that there might be a rise in prices of goods should the drivers stick to their guns.

This comes after prison warders across the country staged a sit in which saw them clashing with police officers, in an effort to push for better working conditions in the face of the Covid-19 threat.

On Friday, the government announced of mass promotions across all junior ranks within the Malawi Prisons Service (MPS).

MPS’ commissioner responsible for Farms and Industry, Clement Kainja has said in a letter to all prison formations that government has with immediate effect promoted all warders to sergeants, sergeants to gaolers while all gaolers promoted to inspectors.

The move has not gone down well with self-upgraded teachers who have accused government of favoritism.

They have since threatened of nationwide protests until government effects mass promotions on them like it has done with prison officers.

One of the teachers who hold diplomas, Vasco Cosmas, said some of the self-upgraded teachers with whom he graduated the same year in 2019 were promoted same year leaving out some including those that graduated earlier than 2019.

He said the teachers have been engaging Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM), but they have been told to wait.

“Now we have seen the government promoting our friends –the warders with immediate effect after they did demonstrations. Our outcry is; should the civil servants be promoted after demonstrations? Should we self-upgraded teachers be promoted after we demonstrate?” he queried.

TUM General Secretary, Charles Kumchenga, said the union was aware of the issue and it was discussing with government adding that the discussions are at an advanced stage.

He further indicated that it was too early for the teachers to start coming out to the public with the issue.

“In fact we have received a lot of letters from the teachers themselves and we have submitted them to the relevant authorities, we are waiting for the meeting with government.”

He says the meeting is expected to be held by next week.

In his response, Secretary for Education, Justine Saidi, said the ministry has done placements (promoted) of a lot of the teachers and the process to place more is underway.

Saidi said placement of teachers according to their upgraded certificates is a long process that also involves the Teaching Service Commission and requires submission of relevant documentation by the teachers.

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