Mining & Social Issues with Ignatius Kamwanje: Labour Laws and Working Conditions in the Mining Sector in Malawi

Mining & Social Issues with Ignatius Kamwanje

Labour Laws and Working Conditions in the Mining Sector in Malawi

From a Mine Workers Perspective

Extractive industries hold significant development potential in any country. In Africa, these industries bring about much suffering to the local people. Although many companies have mined and exploited these valuable resources, there is not much to show for improved lives of people. Most multi-national mining companies undermine the position of locals in many ways such as depressed wages, violations of the people’s rights, deliberate avoidance of national labour laws and practices, swearing in their language for a local not to grasp, perpetuation of inequality and injustice through authoritarianism, exploitation, racism and other forms of discrimination.

The paradox of plenty is a reality for many African countries. There’s an abundance of natural resources such as oil, natural gas and minerals, but there has not been much economic growth and development for many countries. The resource curse is a reality for many African countries in terms of minerals. The natural resources that are abundant in most African countries tend to benefit not the communities and countries within which the minerals are found and extracted but the mining companies themselves who are foreigners. It is concerning to note that many of the mining deals on the continent benefit companies operating in the various communities more than they benefit African people. These resources should be a blessing for the African countries and communities.

In Malawi, Labour and work conditions are regulated by three main areas.

  • The Employment Act which regulates matters of work hours and remuneration.
  • Workers Compensation and Welfare Act which is incorporated into the Employment Act
  • The Industrial Relations Act which regulates work related issues between the employee and the employer.

There is also the Labour Relations Act that deals with unionism at workplace that protects and promotes the freedom of association, and collective bargaining.

The main challenge which the legal Framework of the Labour Act has when applied to the mining industry is that different pieces of labour legislation are generic and there is need to develop a comprehensive Act that would speak on mining related work conditions, handling of exposure to mining related occupational diseases and also mine accidents. A good example is the Occupational Diseases and Works Act Number 78 of 1973 of South Africa, which despite its inherent shortfall that it talks of miners as black people, deals with almost all diseases exposed to mining work and how these would be handled.

Challenges faced by mine workers in Malawi

There are so many challenges that are faced by mine workers in Malawi. These among others include but not limited to the following:

(a) Homogeneity in the minimum wage in the Employment Act as if all the sectors are the same.

- Much as many mining companies pay workers above the minimum wage, there is need however that a minimum wage for mining related work of dangerous and hazardous sectors be set. This is because the nature of work and the profits that often times these companies make should commensurate with the pay given to the peopl who provide the labour.

(b) Different labour related legislative issues are also homogenous

(c)  Absence of Workers Compensation Fund and its implementation

(d)  Absence of Mining Charter

(e)  Lack of freedom of expression and flexibility

(f)  Language problem

(g) Inadequate/ lack of occupational safety and health standards and enforcement.

- From visits in some mines, especially the coal mining areas in the north, it has been observed that most of the workers are exposed to harsh conditions and even working without Personal Protective Equipment(PPE) and a careful assessment shows that government officials under OSHE rarely or they do not go to these mines. It is also a requirement that mining companies must have implementation of an EHS Plan that addresses such issues and remedies to overcome them to achieve maximum production.

(h) Lack of periodic checking on workers’ conditions

- Safety, health and protection from work hazards.  This is hampered by the fact that mine sites are more or less protected areas so much so that even the Minister of Labour cannot visit any mine site without prior appointment and approval to do so by the management for the mining company.

(i)  Weak job protection measures of labour in the sector…no job security.

- The legal framework does not stipulate clearly what work at a mine could or should be done by local people and which should be done by expatriates.  In other words, there is little job protection and some mining companies are taking advantage to source cheap labour outside Malawi when such jobs could equally be done local Malawians although there is a backup of exposure or work experience.

(j)  Workers denied rights to access some company policies

- Some policies are deliberately targeted at locals as victims than their expatriate counterparts.

(k)  Absence of proactive unionism for fear or reprisals.

- Most local employees in Malawi working in mines either fear the formation of the union or they form but still progressively inactive. This is because the selected leaders/individuals often fear reprisals from the Management whenever unionism seems very active. As a result, most of the issues to do with labour laws and conditions are left unattended by the local employees so that the union sometimes dies a natural death.

(l)  Absence of frequent monitoring of OSH by concerned authorities to minimize hazards.

(m) Labour related issues are not taken seriously by most mining companies due to laxity by concerned supervisors from government.

(n)  Mine workers lack knowledge of their labour rights. They are only recognized when there is an incident e.g. strike, unionism, accidents, occupational diseases.

Women Involvement

The mining industry is perceived to be dominated by males and women are not necessarily welcomed. Women face stigmatization in mining. They are treated as inferiors and when they participate in any mining activity as such, they are perceived not to have passion for their families even culturally. It is therefore considered by males that these   women abscond family responsibilities from their matrimonial homes. There is also lack of technical capacity among women to compete favourably with their male counterparts in the mining industry.  Therefore, there must exist incentives that try to address women challenges in mining in Malawi as a country as it is in other sectors. There also exists lack of cohesive base in women in mining and this results from poor response from government and other key stakeholders.

The labour and employment environment for mine workers described shows that much as there are laws and policies to regulate labour, there is need to attune them to mine related work and where possible create new laws that will have to deal with emerging labour and employment matters including those specifically on women although gender plays an integral part in the sector in Malawi. Some mining laws could be strengthened to incorporate realistic and manageable demands. This should be paired with an approach toward devising a mining code that emphasizes rationalization. One must understand that minerals are a national asset as such benefits need to be fairly shared.


- There is need to match minimum wage with mining related work because of the hazards associated with it.

- The profits realised from mining companies with the nature of work should commensurate with the wages provided.

- Develop a comprehensive Labour Act specifically for the mining sector because of its complexity.

- Incorporate women and gender issues into the agenda at least to balance the inequality that exists.

- Enforce job protectionism/security measures. Some mining companies are taking advantage of sourcing cheap labour from outside at the expense of local Malawians.

- Frequent sensitisation of labour related issues to mine workers by concerned parties.

- Empower local workers to form unions and persuade/enforce mining companies to adhere.

- Devise measures that restrict ministers or labour officials/supervisors to book an appointment to visit mines or the visits should be ad hoc.


This piece was initially published in Malawi’s Mining & Trade Review Issue Number 60 (April 2018).

The full edition is available for download here. This monthly publication is edited by Marcel Chimwala.


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