‘We are slaves in our country’

KAMTUKULE— We always make sure that labour laws are protected

By Samuel Kalimira:

Thirty-four-year-old Luke Chilenje from Lupaso Township, Mzuzu City, regrets reporting for work one day.

“I was embarrassed in the presence of workmates when my supervisor, a foreign national, accused me of failing to execute my job and beat me up.


“I was surprised because they interviewed us for three days before they eventually picked us for the job. And, yet, they keep on shouting at us in their language, mixed with a little bit of English,” Chilenje said.

A qualified carpenter, Chilenje, who has Grade 1-Trade Test, Advance Tevet level 3 certificate and is a former instructor at Ezondweni Community College, said, for far too long, local artisans have been suffering in silence at the hands of foreign employers.

The carpenter, who has been engaged by a foreign company and is working in Mzuzu, said it has become commonplace for people to be assaulted by their superiors.


“One day, for example, after I had finished a task I was assigned to do on that day, my supervisor assigned me another task. Before I could start working, I went behind the structure to inquire into how I could erect cramps. Before the supervisor could answer me, he started shouting at me. He came closer to where I was and beat me twice, accusing me of failing to understand my job,” Chilenje said.

He reported the incident to the supervisor’s seniors, who promised to follow up on the matter but never did.

Nelson Harry, 44, also claims that he was roughed up by the same person on another day.

Harry said he was beaten at the back while holding on to a pipe.

“To make matters worse, that happened when I was standing on top of the building we were constructing,” he said.

While conceding ignorance of labour laws, Harry said he is sure that his rights were violated, alleging that locals are working “as slaves”.

Thirty-year-old Lumbani Nyasulu from Chipunga Village in NKhata Bay is another worker with a sad tale to tell about foreign nationals who employ locals in the country.

He said the incident in question happened when he was working as a plant and vehicle mechanic at one of the companies owned by foreign nationals in the country.

“That time, I was working on a road construction site in Mzimba District. I was with a friend who failed to remove a filter and the supervisor asked me to do the work. After I managed to remove it, my supervisor beat me on the head, shouting at me, accusing me of being the one who tightened it so that others would find it difficult to remove.

“The matter went to court and I lost the court case because this friend, who was with me at the time of the incident, did not back me in court,” Nyasulu said.

There have been similar cases in Nkhata Bay and Karonga, where some foreign nationals are supervising road construction and water infrastructure development works.

For instance, last year, a 51-year-old China national working for the company working on Nkhata Bay Water Supply Project was accused of sexually assaulting two female workers aged 24 and 26 years while on duty at a construction site

Nkhata Bay Police Station spokesperson Kondwani James confirmed that a China national was suspected of sexually assaulting the female workers.

He said the matter went to court and the man was later fined.

“The women worked in the company’s cafeteria department,” James said.

These cases could be a tip of the iceberg.

Some locals have complained that, apart from being exposed to sexual and physical abuses, they overwork.

There are even times, they claim, when they get injured on duty but do not get fully assisted.

The National Construction Industry Council said it is aware of allegations of abuse in the industry said it is working to establish facts.

NCIC Corporate Affairs Officer Lyford Gideon said the institution will discipline contractors found violating terms of the Code of Ethics for those in the construction industry.

“Much as the allegations hinge on labour laws; if proven true, they are a violation of the Code of Ethics which contractors sign for, with NCIC as a regulator, and pledge to uphold. Therefore, NCIC will not hesitate to institute disciplinary proceedings on any contractor(s) found culpable of breaching such ethics,” Gideon said.

Northern Region Water Board (NRWB), which is one of the institutions that has been engaging foreign contractors, said it would act on such issues if it gets reports.

NRWB Chairperson James Munthali said: “We don’t condole that.”

Labour Minister Vera Kamtukule said she has not received any report of cases of such nature.

“I can assure you that we always make sure that labour laws are respected and apply to every person.

“My ministry protects people and, once we hear of reports of abuse, we follow up and act,” Kamtukule said.

In the past 10 years, most labour cases involving foreign nationals have been handled by magistrate courts which, as in the Mzuzu City case, have been known to fine perpetrators.

However, cases of a complex nature are handled by the Industrial Relations Court.

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