Women and Justice: Court: Industrial Relations Court of Malawi

Domestic Case Law

Jumbo v. Banja La Mtsogolo Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (2002)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination, Sexual harassment

The applicant, Salome Jumbo, claimed she was dismissed as a result of her pregnancy. In 1999, the applicant started as a temporary nurse aid at a clinic and continued in that position until 2001. In 2001, the manager of the clinic assured the applicant that her job had become permanent. On April 4, 2001, the manager discovered that the applicant was pregnant. He immediately warned the applicant that he would not allow her to keep her job if she remained pregnant, as they wanted a permanent nurse aid. The manager also enquired into the applicant’s private affairs and made inappropriate sexual remarks. On June 1, 2001, the manager terminated the applicant’s employment explicitly informing her that her termination was due to her pregnancy. The applicant asked for a reference letter, but the manager refused saying that she was a temporary employee and did not deserve one. The Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (the “Court”) ruled that the termination was contrary to the spirit of the Employment Act and ordered that the clinic immediately re-instate the applicant. The Court found that the respondent specifically violated the applicant’s rights under §31(1) of the Employment Act, which requires employers to provide a reference if the employee requests one on termination of an employment contract.  In addition, the respondent violated § 49 (1) of the Employment Act, which dictates that “terminating a woman’s employment because of pregnancy amount[s] to an offence [that is] punishable with a fine of K20,000 and imprisonment of five years” (p. 3). The Court also found that the manager’s inquiries into the applicant’s private affairs with her husband amounted to sexual harassment. This case is notable in Malawi because it set the precedent that inquiring into a married woman’s private affairs with her husband is an unfair labor practice.

Mwanza v. World Vision Malawi Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (2006)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The respondent employed the applicant on a fixed term contract as a data entry clerk. The applicant’s contract term was four years expiring on January 10, 2005. However, the respondent terminated her on December 22, 2003. The reason given for her termination was that she had become pregnant out of wedlock. The applicant challenged the dismissal and took legal action against the respondent. The respondent conceded that the reason for termination was invalid and asked the court to decide on a remedy. The applicant asked for reinstatement as the remedy. The Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (the “Court”) found that reinstatement was an inappropriate remedy because the applicant’s fixed contract had already lapsed in time. Instead, the Court awarded the applicant compensation for the employment benefits lost between the effective date of her termination (March 22, 2004) and the expiration of her contract (January 10, 2005). The Court cited § 63 (4) of Malawi’s Employment Act, which “provides that compensation shall be just and equitable” (p. 2). The Court awarded additional compensation to the applicant pursuant to §§ 63(5)(d), 57(3) and 49 of the Employment Act. Section 57(3) “prohibits discrimination on the basis of one’s sex, marital status or other status;” whereas, § 49 prohibits “dismissal on grounds of pregnancy (p. 3).”

Kaunda v. Tukombo Girls Secondary School Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (2007)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The applicant and her husband were both employed by the respondent as an accounts clerk and teacher, respectively. After the applicant’s husband resigned to join the Public Service, the respondent terminated the applicant’s employment contract noting that her employment was tied to her husband’s. The applicant challenged the dismissal alleging that it was invalid. The Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (the “Court”) found that the respondent discriminated against the applicant on the basis of her marital status. The Court reasoned that “the effect of the reason used by the respondent was to prevent the applicant from entering and sustaining an employment contract and pursuing a livelihood in her own right because she was married” (p. 2). In reaching its decision, the Court consulted § 5 of Malawi’s Employment Act and §§ 20, 24(1)(i), 24(2)(b) and 31 of Malawi’s Constitution. The Court held that the applicant’s termination was invalid because the reason for her termination “denied her right to engage in economic activity through employment” and “her right to fair labor practices” (p. 2). Therefore, the applicant’s termination was also prohibited under section 57(3)(a) of Malawi’s Employment Act. The Court awarded the applicant compensation for the unfair dismissal and discrimination.

Phiri v. Smallholder Coffee Farmers Trust Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (2007)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape

The plaintiff, Phiri, was a security guard. She was employed on a fixed term renewable contract, renewable upon satisfactory performance. On December 26, 2005, near the end of her employment term, one of Phiri’s colleagues attacked her and attempted to rape her, only stopping after being apprehended when the plaintiff shouted for help. The plaintiff reported the incident to her employer’s management. In response, the company’s management accused her of misconduct for revealing to the public what the company considered an internal matter. On December 31 2005, the company fired the plaintiff citing the expiring fixed term contract for support. The plaintiff brought her case in front of the Industrial Relations Court of Malawi (the “Court”). The Court found that she had reason to believe her contract would have been renewed and that the company’s failure to renew her contract was based on the attempted rape incident. According to the Court, the company’s action breached an implied term of Phiri’s employment contract relating to mutual trust and confidence as well as the company’s obligation under the contract to protect female employees. The Court found that this incident was sexual harassment. Until recent amendments to the Employment Act, the labor laws of Malawi did not address sexual harassment. The closest Malawi’s labor regulation came to prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace was § 5 of the Employment and Labor Relations Act read with § 20 of Malawi’s Constitution, which prohibits unfair discrimination in all forms. Despite the lack of a legal provision specifically addressing sexual harassment, the Court found that inappropriate sexually based behavior (e.g. sexual advances) creates a hostile work environment and leads to unfair labor practices. Therefore, the Court found Phiri’s dismissal invalid and held that the company violated Phiri’s “right to fair labor practices, the right to work, her right to safe working environment and personal dignity” (p 4).