Malawi airport firefighters threaten unspecified action if concerns raised not addressed in 21 days

* First task of newly appointed director of Civil Aviation James Chakwera

* Grade M and L be abolished and create Grade K as their entry point

* One has to wait until some fighters die, retire or resign to create new space for promotions

* Demand is from many years back but government has only been making unfulfilled promises

By Duncan Mlanjira

Fire fighting services assistance (Grade M) from all airports in the country, have petitioned the office of the Director of Civil Aviation to effect deserving promotions to officers who have served in same junior rank for many years.

The firefighters also demand that the entry point of Grade M and L be abolished and create Grade K as their entry point.

Signatories to the petition

 

The petition, delivered to newly-appointed Director of Civil Aviation James Chakwera on Thursday, February 18 says many of the firefighters have been serving at junior level at Grade M (fire services assistants).

They contend that they have not been promoted ever since they joined the fire service with some serving on the entry grade for quite a long period of time — at 10 years, with others as long as 15 to 20 years — which “is worrisome”.

“Promotion motivates workers in every environment as it shows that their work and effort are appreciated,” says the petition. “Imagine 76 fire fighters competing for 22 posts?

“This means 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.

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“We now, therefore, ask your office to abolish grade M & L. We are further asking you to make grade K as our entry point.”

They further demand that current fire services on Grade M should all be qualified to go on Grade K.

“We hereby make it clear that after 21 days notice and our problems are not addressed we shall be forced to engage a new gear.

“We will be waiting for your immediate action, we hope you will address the issues in the letter and we look forward to your response,” says the petition, signed by all airports’ junior fire fighters in Malawi and copied to Principal Secretary for Transport and Airport Commandants at Kamuzu and Chileka International Airports.

Current organogram for the fire service

An inside source said if the concerns are not addressed within the specialized time frame, the wrangle has the potential of jeopardizing the arrival of planes carrying COVID-19 vaccines and other essential materials — hinting of a nationwide strike.

The source said the demand for well deserved promotions started many years back but government has only been making unfulfilled promises and now have taken advantage of the new-appointed Director of Civil Aviation, Chakwera.

“Our training content — done through Malawi School of Aviation at Kamuzu International Airport — is very rich and it’s highly-rated elsewhere including the UN and other international organizations that has led to “many of our colleagues securing lucrative jobs in the UN,” said the source.

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He added that their fire fighting course is always on-going because once they graduate from their initial training of six months, they continue with in-house trainings at their airport bases such as new trends in first aid, breathing apparatus, pump operation amongst others.

“So government must consider giving us the Grade K — grade M is very low,” he said.

He added 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.

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“If there is no person that has qualified to go for interviews, the office may write a letter asking for a waiver.”

The source disclosed 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,” said the source.

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