Malawi has deployed troops to distribute fuel at gas stations following a strike by fuel tank drivers this week. Drivers are pressing the government for a minimum wage hike and to ensure that local drivers get contracts, they say, dominated by foreign transporters.
Tanker drivers on Monday began a strike in the country’s major cities of Lilongwe, Blantyre and Majuzu.
On Wednesday they blocked a road in the capital, Lilongwe, resulting in some arrests.
Government spokesman Gospel Cazako said at a news conference on Thursday that the strike was surprising, given that government officials had already addressed all the demands raised by drivers during a similar strike in November 2020.
He said that amid demands the government should review the minimum wage for drivers, which was around $60 a month.
“The government had to go all out, listening to their problems,” Cazako said. “The government directed and made it into law that there should be no international truck driver who should be paid less than MK140,000.”
This figure equates to about $170 per month.
But till now the drivers have not got the increased salary. They say that this is largely because their employers are going through financial difficulties due to no business from the government side.
The strike is also aimed at prompting the government to award local fuel supply contracts to its employers, he says, dominated by foreign transporters, he said.
Due to this the truck owners joined the strike on Wednesday.
The information minister, Kazako, also said he believed the strike was a ploy to sabotage government functions.
George Khaki, president of Malawi’s Employers Advisory Association, said the strike was baseless.
“If they wanted to take industrial action, the industrial action should have been against their employers. Not against the government, as the government is not a party to the employment contract,” he said. “This is where they’re doing it wrong and unfortunately it’s an illegal strike.”
The strike caused chaos this week at some Malawi gas stations that had fuel.
The Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority said the country had enough gas to last a month, but the problem was a failure to supply pump stations due to the strike.
To address the problem, Kazako said the government has deployed the military to help distribute the fuel.
From Thursday night, soldiers started plying fuel tankers to pump stations and, in some cases, are driving the tankers themselves.
In a statement on Thursday, the Malawi Defense Force’s Acting Public Information Officer, Major Emanuel Kelvin Mlemba, said the move is in line with its constitutional role in assisting civilian authorities to maintain essential services in times of emergency.
Meanwhile, the striking drivers say they will not return to work until their demands are met.