Malawi: Airport Firefighters On Sit-in Strike As Malawi Airlines Passengers Stranded With Flight Cancellation

After the expiry of their third extension of the deadline to have their grievances resolved, which expired on April 1, Malawi's junior-ranked airport firefighters have gone on a go-slow mode that has forced senior officers to take over operations from 6am to 7pm.

The aviation firefighters from all airports in the country petitioned the office of the Director of Civil Aviation on February 18 demanding that the entry point of service assistants (Grade M) be abolished and create Grade K as their entry point.

In their first petition on February 18, the firefighters had threatened not to allow any aircraft to land or take off from all airports in the country but when the deadline of days notice expired on March 11, they extended it to 14 days -- that also expired on March 25.

The third extension was issued on March 26 that expired on April 1, forcing the fire fighting service assistants to go slow.

A source from Kamuzu International Airport said government had indicated to respond on Tuesday, April 6 but as at the end of business had not done so -- "claiming the Director of Civil Aviation [James Chakwera] had not been in his office the whole day".

"They are saying they will come back to us tomorrow but the go slow continues -- no junior officer is working on any acting post," said the source.

"The go slow has greatly affected all airports. As of now fire bosses have been forced to start operating from 6am to 7pm. Normally this is done by junior officers."

He added that the go slow is compromising the safety of the airports since there are many gaps that have been created since all Grade M officer are refusing to work on any acting positions.

The firefighters disclosed that they have been serving at junior level Grade M for many years without been promoted -- with some serving on the entry grade for as long as 10 years and others as long as 15 to 20 years.

Their petition says currently about 76 firefighters are competing for 22 posts and that those who will be left out in the promotion interviews need to wait until some fighters die, retire or resign to create new space for promotions.

Thus they ask the government to abolish grade M & L and make grade K as their entry point.

An inside source had said in February that the government policy only specifies that if one has served on one grade for 4 years or more, they are supposed to be considered for the next grade only if a vacancy exists and they have passed interviews.

"If there is no person that has qualified to go for interviews, the office may write a letter asking for a waiver," the source had said, adding that the entry grade is a diploma level but many government departments write a waiver to promote long serving deserving officers.

"An example is that of the prison warders, who start with grade M, but as you are aware they were all promoted to grade K after their sit-in last year.

"Like all civil servants, we receive annual salary increment -- cost of living adjustment -- but automatically it stops after 6 years upon reaching level 7; like grade M.

"We call it M7 which is final -- you don't get any more increment and we are not entitled to any other benefits," the source had said.

Meanwhile, about 118 Malawi Airlines passengers who were scheduled to leave for Johannesburg, South Africa Wednesday morning were stranded at KIA following a failure by a scheduled flight, Boeing 737-700 to show up at the airport.

The flight was scheduled to depart for Johannesburg at 8:20 am.

The flight was suspended from operations between March 26 and March 31, 2021, before the company extended the suspension to April 6, 2021, due to what it called a "prolonged mandatory maintenance" in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Malawi Airlines spokesperson Joseph Josiah said the company regrets the last-minute cancellation of the flight and sincere apologises to all its valued customers for the inconvenience caused.

More From: Nyasa Times

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