Malawian rail workers to protest unfair dismissals

Thousands of unskilled construction labourers working on a major new railway project in Malawi are planning to take to the streets on Monday following the unfair dismissal of local workers.

As many as 1500 local labourers working for the main construction contractor on the Nacala railway line, Portuguese industrial firm Mota Engil, were recently let go, only to be replaced by Thai nationals.

This is in direct contravention of Malawi labour law which protects menial jobs for locals.

The protestors are fearful that the remaining 1500 local labourers will also be fired.

Equal Times spoke to workers at Mota Engil’s main construction site at Mkwinda in Neno, southern Malawi who said they had sent a petition to the Malawian parliament over the illegal firing of the local work force and the hiring of an alleged 3000 Thai migrant workers to replace them.

Brazilian mining giant Vale started construction of the 136-kilometre Nacala rail line in January this year.

Scheduled for completion in 2015, it is expected to carry over 6.5 million tonnes of coal from the Moatize coal mine in the Tete Province, Mozambique to the port of Nacala, also in Mozambique, via Malawi.


Broken promises

While Vale promised local chiefs that it would employ the local population on menial jobs, Mota Engil has broken the agreement after some local workers were accused of stealing construction material and equipment.

But one of the sacked workers, Said Phiri, said that most of the workers were being dismissed on unfair grounds.

“No reasons are given for their dismissal, except that of incompetency,” he explained.

“When I was dismissed, I was very surprised because I had worked with the company for over five months and during all that period, no supervisors had complained about my work, yet alone give me a warning on my service delivery,” he said.

While Phiri tried to get a resolution through the labour office, he was only given his unpaid wages.



Mota Engil has refused to comment on the development and local District Labour Officer Kennedy Chiwaya has denied all knowledge of the Nacala rail dismissals.

However, an Equal Times visit to the Mkwinda and Envulo construction sites in the southern Malawian districts of Neno and Mwanza reveal that the company has indeed employed Thai nationals on jobs that were previously done by Malawians.

The dismissals have also had a negative impact on local relations with Thai workers.

Police in Neno say there have been a number of xenophobic attacks on the Thai community since local workers were fired.

In addition, a source at the local District Labour Office, who spoke to Equal Times on the condition of anonymity, revealed that the office has indeed dealt with a number of unfair dismissal cases involving Mota Engil.

A number of irregularities were also noted.

A ground laborer at the Envulo site, Jabulani Bwanali , said that the dismissals hadn’t been conducted by the Human Resources department.

Two of his co-workers at the Mkwinda site were fired by the Chief Accountant, he said.

Malawi Immigration Public Relation Officer Martha Gonondo did not deny or acknowledge the development.

She did confirm, however, that Malawian immigration laws prohibit the employment of foreign nationals for menial jobs.