Q: For a start, briefly what is Ecam’s broad mission for existence on the market?
A: Ecam was founded in 1963 to look after employers’ interests in the tea sector. Since then Ecam has evolved to a multi-sectoral body and it represents all sectors of the economy in Malawi. Our core objective is to promote, protect and guide employer’s interests in the country basically in dealing with labour and employment issues and socio - economic issues that have an effect on employment.
Q: In most production oriented enterprises, employees complain of poor pay and unfavourable working conditions like lack of protective wear. How is Ecam resolving these concerns?
A : Ecam runs on membership. We ensure that all our members abide by set legal standards on work place safety and health. We also engage them in various trainings more especially if there are changes in policies and pieces of legislation. But it has become particularly difficult to deal with companies that are non members. You will find that employers who will not fully comply to set standards would probably be SMEs. So this year Ecam is on a recruitment drive to get these SMEs on board then it would be easier to guide them on work place safety and health.
Q: In your analysis as an association is the minimum wage of K35, 000 fair to employers and employees in the current economic standing?
A : Let me start from the employers’ perspective because they are in different categories. Others are in manufacturing, agriculture, telecommunication, domestic ….the scope is wide. Take for instance agriculture, security and retail services. These are labour intensive categories as such a higher minimum wage will have an impact on the overall performance of the enterprise. On the other hand we have Banks and all players in financial services due to the nature of their business they can afford a higher minimum wage.
But there are other employers say domestic employers, very few would afford paying a minimum wage of K35, 000. Our final assessment on this issue is that having a national minimum wage may not be suitable but probably we should have a sectoral minimum wage because in the sectors they would have similar challenges and same type of productivity so sectoral minimum wage would be applicable.
In terms of fairness on the part of employees I would emphatically say no. We do cost of living surveys monthly. Our surveys have indicated that the cost of living is way too high. Currently a family of six needs K170, 000 to survive. Actually it is the fundamentals in our economy that determines how much businesses can give out as wages.
Q: You are also involved in organizing occupational health safety trainings. What has been the impact of these trainings?
A: The trainings have left a huge impact in the industry. We had managed to reduce industrial accidents. Let me add that having zero or few industrial accidents means that the profitability of the companies and welfare of employees ought to improve. Secondly we have also seen a reduction in claims for industrial accidents thereby companies making huge savings on compensations.
Q : There are allegations of child labour in tobacco farms, what’s the degree of this malpractice?
A : The last formal survey on child labour was done by Unicef around 2012-2013. Meanwhile we have not yet done any comprehensive survey to find out the extent of child labour in tobacco industry. To be honest with you a lot has been done to deal with child labour across the spectrum. Ecam in collaboration with International Labour Organisation (ILO) we have carried out two projects namely; Arise 1 and Arise 2. Arise is an acronym that means ‘Achieving Reduction In child labour in Support of Education.
We have seen tobacco companies taking an extra mile to do away with incidences of child labour. On record we have tobacco companies that have invested in social amenities such as schools, hospitals and supporting farm households with other income generating activities. Players in the industry have also supported community technical colleges so that young people should have skills and pursue other ventures other than getting adhoc jobs in tobacco farms.
Some of the participants in past Ecam trainings
Q: What are the best strategies for dealing with child labour employment?
A: This requires an integrated approach which will involve a number of key stakeholders. You see in all districts where there’s high agricultural productivity or where extractive industries thrive, child labour exist silently but what matters is how to deal with the issue from the root. You have seen the mushrooming of Kabaza (taxi motorcycles) some of the operators are under age, we also see children on the roadside selling pan cakes etc so we need a way to comprehensively deal with child labour because it does not exist in tobacco industry only but also in other sectors of the economy.
Q: There are some employers though warned tend to continue exploiting children through child labour, what punitive measures do Ecam use?
A: All Ecam members follow a code of conduct and if we find some who are deliberately doing to the contrary, we deregister them. Some of our members do trade internationally so they need to have certification or confirmation that their goods were not produced with child labour. If their goods were produced by child labour they know they can’t get the certification and consequently lose the market. In addition, if an enterprise is found wanting for breaking the code of conduct it faces the long arm of law and are held responsible based on the country’s statutes prohibiting child labour.
Q: In 2020, what should employers expect from Ecam?
A : This year we would like to have more engagements with Government. First of all we will hold interface meetings with our members to develop a business agenda. Then we will meet officials from the Government side so that we improve the business environment. The other aspect is skills development. Some employers are complaining that there’s a mismatch of available skills and industry requirements especially when employing young people.
We are working with Government in what we are calling Jobs for Youths Programme through which interns are placed in various government departments. Finally we would like to review Tevet, Pensions and Compensation Acts. We would also like to engage Government on Permanent and temporary work permits plus permanent” These are some of the issues they should expect from Ecam in 2020.
Q: In a nutshell is Ecam winning the fight on all pertinent employment issues?
A: Yes Ecam has been very instrumental in influencing changes for the betterment of employers and the employee at large thereby improving the image of the country in terms of industrial relations.
Q: Your concluding remarks if any?
A: To those members who are not yet our members I should say they are losing a lot because their voice is not being heard. As a block we will be able to discuss key issues with Government and influence change. I should urge them to be part of the narrative for better business productivity.