9 January 2012

Malawi: Judicial Strike Shuts Down Courts

Photo: Lindsay Mgbor/Department for International Development
The strike has increased pressure on President Joyce Banda (File Photo)

Malawi's courts ground to a halt Monday as some 2,000 judicial workers began an indefinite strike over work conditions and higher pay, organisers said.

"All 200 courts, from the high courts to magistrate courts, have closed down," said Austin Kamanga, a spokesman of the Judicial Action Group spearheading the strike in the poor southern African nation.

"We are fighting for new conditions of service which were approved by parliament in 2006."

The parliament had approved a 40 percent pay hike in 2006 and another 60 percent in 2009, but none of these had been implemented, the group claims.

"The strike will be indefinite until our demands are met. The new conditions of service are to the benefit of everybody, from high court judges to the junior staff," Kamanga told AFP.

Discussions between the government and judicial officials "had been going for sometime" but without any conclusion, solicitor-general Anthony Kamanga said.

"There are challenges in the system. Perhaps it is unfortunate that things have reached this stage. You can always find a solution, but striking is not the best way," he told AFP.

"Competing demands" made it difficult for authorities to pay the necessary salaries, said Kamanga.

The government spends 4.5 billion Malawian kwacha ($28 million, 21 million euros) every month to pay 170,000 civil servants.

On average, high court judges are paid about $6,000 (4,700 euros) while junior judicial workers go home with $100.

Anti-government protests and strikes rocked the country last year.

At least 19 people were killed during a police crackdown on demonstrations against President Bingu wa Mutharika's government in July, and more than 275 people were arrested.

Malawi's economy has been hamstrung by suspension of donor inflows to the budget. Donors provide 40 percent of the development budget.


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