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Malawi Parliament Suspended After Strike by Support Staff

Malawi's parliament has suspended all meetings after support workers staged a sit-in strike Tuesday. The workers are protesting the government's handling of their demand for a salary increase.

The suspension came a day after parliament began its mid-year national budget review meeting in the capital, Lilongwe.

Leonard Tilingamawa, the president of the Parliamentary Staff Union, said he told the state-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation that workers went on strike after the government offered them an 18-percent pay raise instead of the 24 percent increase that he said the sides had agreed to earlier.

The 24-percent figure was a compromise from the workers' initial demand for a wage increase of 45 percent.

“We have stayed for six years without any salary adjustment in parliament and this is the first time when you are hearing parliament staff striking,” said Tilingamawa.

Government authorities say they cannot meet the workers’ demand because of financial constraints, but Tilingamawa disagrees.

“I think that’s not true. You understand our colleagues in the mainstream civil service were given 45 percent," he said. "The University [of Malawi] people demanded 75 percent; they were given more than we have asked. And our request in purely a modest one.”

Richard Msowoya is the speaker of the Malawi parliament. He said he had no choice but to suspend parliamentary sessions.

“.. The senior staff [of parliament] I might need to be in the chamber with would be available, but still it will mean that parliament cannot proceed because a lot more people would be needed that would probably be providing all the services that the staff offers; water, pens, anything,” said Msowoya.

Msowoya also chairs the Parliamentary Service Commission, which looks into the welfare of parliament workers. He said the commission will facilitate and mediate discussions between the striking workers and the government until they reach an agreement.