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New twists to judiciary strike

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Malawi Congress Party (MCP) President Lazarus Chakwera has said it is disappointing that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government has failed to resolve a labour dispute that has paralysed the country’s justice delivery system.

Judiciary support staff have been on strike since July 31, demanding housing allowances. The industrial action entered fourth week Monday.

At a press conference yesterday, Chakwera said government should find a lasting solution to the problem.

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“MCP is greatly concerned, dismayed and disappointed with the failure of the executive to make a firm decision on how it intends to deal with grievances and bring the industrial action to an end,” he said.

He also condemned the deployment of police officers at the court premises on Friday, saying Malawi is not a police state.

He pointed out that over the years, the DPP government has failed to completely deal with recurring labour disputes with members of staff in the judiciary, involving both judicial officers and support staff.

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“The frequency with which our courts are shut down is reflective of a systemic failure to properly define the manner in which remuneration for members of staff of the judiciary is revised and implemented and is also symptomatic of the executive’s cavalier attitude towards the delivery of justice in the country,” he said.

He added that the closure of the courts is tantamount to suspension of the Constitution and a constitutional crisis that requires to be treated with deserved urgency.

“Indefinite closure of our courts has an adverse impact on rule of law, governance and the enjoyment of human rights by all Malawians, no one can claim to fully enjoy any rights in the mechanism for the enforcement of any such rights is absent,” Chakwera said.

The MCP leader said the constant closure of the courts is very damaging to the nation.

Meanwhile, government has issued a statement in which it is saying that the strike the support staff in the judiciary are staging is illegal.

It says the demand for housing allowances being made is not supported by the law as it is not provided for in their conditions of service.

“The government is therefore directing the support staff in the Judiciary to return to work immediately. Should the support staff refuse to comply with this directive, Government shall lock them out except for those willing to return to work, unconditionally.” reads the statement, dated 17 August 2017 signed by Chief Secretary to Government, Lloyd Muhara.

It further says that it is illegal and an offence to block court premises and obstruct access, thereby preventing the access to the delivery of service by the court.

“Should any of the support staff in the Judiciary refuse to comply with the instruction, the government will proceed to use any lawful means available to an employer and proprietor of premises to remove such obstructions and barricades in order to allow access to the general public, court users as well as other members of staff that are not on strike,” reads the statement.

Yesterday, Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda addressed the striking judiciary workers, in Blantyre and asked them to go back to work.

Spokesperson for the judiciary workers Andy Haliwa said Nyirenda asked them to consider effects of the strike, saying a lot of Malawians are failing to access justice.

“We had a meeting. The Chief Justice has asked us to think of the effects of the strike, how Malawians are suffering failing to get justice. He said he is setting up a judiciary negotiating team which will be meeting the government’s negotiating team on the matter,” he said.

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