BLANTYRE--Estates owners, especially tobacco estates landlords in Malawi are blocking the passing of the Labour and Tenancy Bill so that they should continue making more profits by using cheap labour, Robert Mkwezalamba, former Secretary General of the Malawi Congress of Trade Union (MCTU) has said.
About 17 years have elapsed since the labour and tenancy bill was first reviewed in July 1995. It was later reviewed in 2005 and 2010 but never taken to parliament for passing as anticipated both by the Tobacco Tenants Union of Malawi and Malawi Congress of Trade Union.
The bill, if passed, will regulate and foster mutual relationship between the estates owners and tenants.
Tenants working in tobacco estates are said to be subjected to harsh working conditions, according to Raphael Sandram, Secretary General of Tobacco Tenants Union of Malawi.
Corroborating the claims, Eletina Kalemba, a tenant at one of the tobacco estates in Kasungu district, says there are no houses at most estates, forcing families to stay in makeshift shelters.
Kalamba further claims that pregnant women are not given maternity leave instead they are forced to go to the field to work with their babies.
“We are not considered as workers, and children are not allowed to go to school. Women are treated as co-workers of their husbands not necessarily paid up tenants.
“Working environment is not conducive and we hardly access health facilities and other pertinent basic provisions because these estates are in remote areas,” said Kalamba, before asking the government and parliamentarians to the pass the bill in the forthcoming parliament sitting in November.
But Mkwezalamba claims that landlords of the estates are blocking the passing of the bill because they don't want to be regulated by the bill, which he says, has guidelines on how tenants should be treated and how can be paid.
“These people are deliberately blocking the bill because they want to continue making more profits by using cheap labour. They do not want to be sharing the profits with their tenants.
“They do not want to be regulated by the bill; they feel it will eat into their profits,” asserts Mkwezalamba.
He says it is disheartening that the bill was not enacted despite doing “all what we thought was right and beneficial both to the employers and tenants.
“There is no political will among the legislators who owns some of these tobacco estates,” adds Mkwezalamba.
However, Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Wezi Kayira says government was “very serious to pass the bill but it should first consider and incorporate “input” and “comments” from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and local legal experts.
Kayira claims that government is committed to addressing challenges the tenants are facing, disclosing that officials from the line ministry have already started inspecting some of the estates to minimizing child labour.
(c) The Maravi Post 2012. Reproduction without acknowledgement prohibited