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Workers used and refused

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GOOD, OLD DAYS—Chabuka poses with a gun outside Chileka Police Station

He was involved in a road accident that left him incapacitated while on police duty 14 years ago, but all he received was K326,000—to cater for his needs for the rest of his life. JAMESON CHAULUKA visited Redson Chabuka who shared his story of pain and despair—all due to unresponsive and draconian labour laws that seem to be cast in stone.

November 6 2002: Constable Redson Chabuka, employment number A. 8531, was enlisted in Malawi Police Service (MPS) full of hope, passion and determination to protect lives and property, maintain law and, order and above all, fend for his family.

But, today, Chabuka, who is bed-ridden in Chirimba Township, Blantyre is a classic example of a victim of cruel labour laws and an uncaring system. At least, that is the impression MPS gives him.

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His career cut short, Chabuka, who was stationed at Chileka Police Station after completing training, was involved in a serious car accident on March 6 2004 when he was ordered to go to Chichiri Prison and accompany suspects to Soche Magistrates’ Court—now a juvenile court—to answer their charges.

He sustained fracture dislocations of the cervical spine at C3, C4 and C5 levels with irreversible injuries to the spinal cord at these levels, causing permanent paralysis of all his arms, legs and the trunk.

Chabuka, now 39, was forced to retire on medical grounds in 2010 and, although he sustained injuries which rendered him permanently paralysed, his benefits were calculated based on his eight years of service—not the entire period from the day he was enlisted to his mandatory retirement age of 60 years.

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In the end, apart from K6 million he received from the insurance of a DHL vehicle which was faulted for causing the accident in two instal lmen t s , Chabuka got K326,000 as gratuity from MPS, again in two installments; first, K125,000 and after what the authorit ies called ‘comprehensive’ calculations, K201,000.

“I am not asking the Malawi Police Service to restore my fitness because I know that it is not possible. They cannot take me back to the service with my condition, but why not calculate my dues up to my mandatory retirement age of 60 years? Why calculate the gratuity based on the years I served as if I sustained the injuries, rendering me unable to work, while engaged in personal stuff?” he queried.

Labour law expert Sheffer Mumba said, although he was unsure of the laws which MPS use in such circumstances, it was clear that what Chabuka received from the service were terminal benefits. He said he was supposed to be compensated for sustaining the injuries in the line of duty.

Civil Servants Trade Union (CSTU) Secretary General, Mada Njolomole, faulted the country’s labour laws for Chabuka’s predicament.

Njolomole said CSTU has been pleading with the government to review the labour laws so as to reflect current trends, saying MPS Regulations were formulated over 30 years ago.

“The main challenge is our labour laws. Gratuity is only calculated from the year of one’s service and last salary, regardless of the reasons of retirement. He [Chabuka] should have gone to the workers’ compensation [council] in the Ministry of Labour.

“Whether he got the compensation from the insurance of the vehicle faulted for the accident or not, the compensation council could have determined the amount of compensation he was supposed to get from his employer [MPS] according to the amount of work he would be able to do after the accident because the injuries will affect his family forever,” he said.

Chabuka is one of the employees who are rendered hopeless after sustaining injuries while on duty in the private and public sectors.

Peter Willard was fired from his post as an assistant general fitter at a company in Blantyre after a machine he was operating cut off his left hand in 2004.

Willard is still waiting for justice. The slow pace at which the wheels of the case are moving at the High Court in Blantyre is not surprising—at least to Willard.

He claimed that the company’s management challenged him that he would not succeed in his court battle.

Willard keeps shouting for justice although his injury is not as bad as that of Chabuka.

Independent medical reports by Doctor Nyengo Mkandawire, an orthopedic surgeon, and physiotherapist Mufalali from Kachere Rehabilitation Centre indicate that Chabuka would not be able to work due to the severity of his injury. The doctors produced the report on March 6 2004.

Chabuka has been bedridden on a catheter ever since and cannot eat without the aid of his children.

He also struggles to go for check-ups on his catheter at the hospital every two weeks due to financial constraints.

He has been knocking on every door, seeking justice to no avail.

“Being on a catheter since 2004 is not easy. I developed serious wounds on private parts such that I once had to undergo skin grafting. My children literally feed and move me around the bed so as to avoid pressure sores. You can see that what I got from the police is not in any way enough,” he said.

Chabuka said he has no hard feelings with the service, but feels let down by the system which MPS used to calculate his gratuity, adding that apart from the K326, 000 he received in two installments, he gets K8,500 annuity on the 14th of every month which he described as an insult.

“I was not coming from drinking. I was not coming from my farm or anywhere else. I was right in the line of duty, doing what I swore to do as part of my work.

“Where on earth can someone who has been retired on medical grounds, not to work again, be given K300,000 as gratuity and get K8,500 annuity? What can I do with K8,500. Not even a security guard working for private security companies can receive this treatment,” he said.

National police spokesperson, James Kadadzera, said he was not competent enough to comment on the matter.

“I am not competent enough to comment on the matter, otherwise I have to first look at the labour laws and all that. What I can say is that he should go to court if he feels that there is any form of injustice. The court will determine whether what happened was okay or not,” he said.

Section 7 of the Labour Relations Act of 2010 says “where a complaint alleging infringement of rights contained in this part has been proved, the Court shall make such order as it deems necessary to ensure compliance with the provisions of this part, including an order for reinstatement of an employee, the restoration to him of a benefit or advantage and an order for the payment of compensation.”

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