/** labr.global: 300.0 **/
** Topic: Malawi Trade Unionists Arrested **
** Written 8:55 PM Apr 24, 1997 by labornews in cdp:labr.global **
From: Institute for Global Communications <email@example.com>
Brussels, April 23, 1997 (ICFTU OnLine): Six trade union leaders from the Mzuzu district in northern Malawi were today taken in for questioning by the police, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has learnt, bringing the total number of trade unionists arrested since the beginning of the civil service strike on April 7 to 20.
According to the information that has reached the ICFTU, the detention of Mike Gondwe, the deputy leader of the civil service union, the CSTU, is imminent. Mr.Gondwe narrowly escaped arrest yesterday when four police officers, two of them armed, came to his home.
More than 50,000 civil servants are still on strike, as the action enters its third week. Trade union appeals to open negotiation seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
The strikers, led by the powerful CSTU, are protesting at the government's refusal to accept the recommendations of an independent commission charged with examining the restructuring of the public services (the Chatsika commission). The recommendations include pay rises in the order of 100% for civil servants who have seen the steady erosion of their purchasing power.
During a meeting with trade unionists last March, however, President Bakili Muluzi promised that he would follow the Commission's recommendations.
Despite repeated requests from the CSTU, the government has so far refused to open negotiations and attemptsto intervene by the national trade union centre, the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions, to which the CSTU is affiliated, have been firmly rejected. Certain members of the government have even been threatened with a reshuffle should they enter into discussions with the trade unions.
Last weekend, three CSTU leaders in the Karonga district, four in the Nkhata Bay district and the whole of the CSTU leadership in Rumphi, as well as those of all the districts in the north of the country, were arrested on the orders of the government. One of the Karonga leaders, Sorex Banda, was taken away naked and at gunpoint by police officers. So far the government has refused to release him on bail.
According to the General Secretary of the MCTU, Francis Antonio, the government instructed the police to launch an operation against the trade unionists in order to break the union and put an end to the strike.
Trade union sources contacted by telephone yesterday believed the arrest of the CSTU's deputy leader, who escaped the police yesterday, was imminent. "The government is not prepared to negotiate and hopes the movement will wear itself out" say sources, adding that the strikers are not receiving any wages. Malawi's civil servants earn 300 kwacha per month (20 dollars), at the bottom of the pay scale, while inflation is about 7%. Last year, the government approved pay rises of about 300%, with minister's earning about 10,000 kwacha per month, excluding the extra benefits minister's receive.
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has called on the Malawi government to open immediate negotiations with the trade union movement. The Confederation has also denounced the arrests to the International Labour Organisation and has asked that steps be taken vis-a-vis the authorities.
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