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Plight of workplace accident victims

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Thirty-six-year-old Kondwani Phiri is a man in deep emotional pain. Having lost his right arm on the job, he is now handicapped and yet to get compensation from his employer.

Phiri, who comes from Kaipsa Village in Traditional Authority Chatanga in Thyolo, lost the ability of using his right arm at his workplace in July 2014.

He was working for Kapani Enterprises in Lilongwe as an assistant supervisor in the butchery section. Part of his job involved grinding large chunks of meat into mince meat.

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On the fateful day Phiri lost his hand, he was pushing the meat inside the machine using a short stick when the machine severely damaged all his five fingers.

“I was quickly taken to Kamuzu Central Hospital where I was admitted as in-patient for five days,” he recalls.

According to the doctor’s report, the right dominant hand which was trapped in the machine compromised neurovascular and required surgery for amputation of all five fingers. The report further indicated that he remained with a stump few metres from the wrist.

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Ironically, after the accident had happened, Phiri was fired from his job and now he has no any source of income to support his family. From breadwinner of his family, he now depends on the family and relatives for his day-to-day upkeep.

The story of Phiri is among the many narratives about people who become h a n d i c a p p e d f o l l o w i n g accidents at workplaces. They are tales of misfortunes that lead to long disability or eventual death.

They are sad tales as many employers and employees seem not aware of what to do or where to go with issues of compensation when accidents occur at workplaces.

Commenting on Phiri’s concern, Human Resource Manager for Kapani Enterprises Matilda Kadzamila confirms the story but claims it was negligence on the part of Phiri that resulted in the accident.

She says the company always advises its employees to be careful when working with machines, adding, however, that the company was willing to help Phiri with another job but the idea was thwarted after he sued the employer for not getting his full salary and compensation when he recovered from illness.

“We received summon from court that Phiri had sued us on the issue of his compensation and during hearing, the court ordered us to honour the compensation. We are yet to compensate him because we are still waiting for his medical report which he is yet to bring forward,” she says.

Kadzamila says the company has called Phiri several times to bring the medical report to start the compensation process but all he says is that the documents are with his lawyers and that he is yet to get them.

Lilongwe District Labour Officer Chiletso Mbewe says failure in following the normal process for claiming compensati o n r e s u l t s in extended delays for one to get their money.

She says in a normal process of compensation, the employer is the one responsible to report any occurrence of accident at a workplace to the nearest labour office for the initiation of compensation process.

“When the employer has reported the case to labour office, they are given forms to sign and submit to the commissioner of labour who responds by inspecting the workplace and react according to their findings,” Mbewe says.

She adds that it is the duty of the commissioner to determine whether the accident occurred due to negligence or it was real accident that can be compensated.

“Such accidents should occur at a workplace or out but work-related that should incapacitate the worker form working for more than seven days,” she explains.

The story of Phiri is similar to that of 23-year-old Sailosi Njolomole who was injured by armed robbers on his way home after knocking off very late from work.

“I am supposed to knock off at 4:30 pm but on this day I finished work at 7 pm. There was no provision of transport from work in Kanengo to Area 50, which is a 10-kilometer distance,” Njolomole narrates.

The robbers broke his arm on the shoulder when they attempted to take away a mobile phone and money from him. He was severely injured that up to now he is unable to use his right hand.

Njolomole was working for a seed processing company in Lilongwe, specifically at a warehouse where they transfer seeds from the factory.

He says normally the company was supposed to provide transport when workers have knocked off late but the arrangement had been suspended when he met his fate.

With these anecdotal stories of Phiri and Njolomole, it is obvious that many people working in unskilled workforce are facing difficulties related to conditions of their work and workplaces.

It is against this background that the Government of Malawi is sensit i s ing employer s and employees to issues of compensation on accidents at workplaces.

Minister of Labour and Manpower Development Henry Mussa says employers have taken advantage of the fact the some employees are not aware of what to do when they get injured at workplace.

“All accidents at workplace must be reported at Labour Office and employers must ensure that there are proper safety measures that are put in place for the safety of the employees.

“Our ministry has a department that follows up on such issues by, among others, working hand in hand with the hospital to ascertain the degree of injury,” Mussa says.

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