Union members called for a strike against security company G4S to begin Wednesday, January 30, but the company was able to obtain an injuction against the strike late Tuesday night. The workers and union complain that the company's wage proposal will only deepen their poverty.
Last July, G4S recognized the Textile and Securtiy Services Workers Union in Malawi, and by October, the union and the company started to negotiate an agreement for G4S’ 13,000 workers there.
G4S is the largest private sector employer in Africa , and the second largest private employer in the world. But the role they are playing in Africa is to maintain the poverty of their workforce, rather than to use their economic might to raise standards across the continent. Today, G4S employees in Malawi can barely afford to eat and rarely live in decent housing.
These security guards are at the bottom of the world's pay scale. With a daily wage that is much less than a cup of coffee in the US or Europe, their total pay, including allowances for housing, is about $30 a month. These guards typically work for 60 hours a week, and yet barely surpass the $1 per day per person established by the World Bank as the measure for "extreme poverty". (Once families are taken into account, the income per person falls far short of even extreme poverty.) Adding further insult, they work for 12 hours a day and are paid for only 10 under the G4S policy to reduce pay by half for overtime hours. Most of the workers can't afford to take any transportation and therefore many walk an hour and a half each way to work. Families can't afford school books for their kids and they can't afford to put basic foodstuff on the table. A "living wage" is not even within reach.
G4S has proposed a pay increase for 2008 of only 12%- an amount which is less than the increase in the cost of living in Malawi in 2007. In Blantyre, the city where many guards live and work, prices for the "Basic Needs Basket" increased by 23% (as announced in November by the Centre for Social Concern.) It is hard to believe, but G4S is proposing a cut in real wages for workers who are already barely scraping by.
In the past, wage increases for G4S workers in Malawi have been in the neighborhood of 20% in order to keep pace with the inflation generated by chronic currency devaluation. The workers perceive this year’s proposed increase to be much lower as punishment for their support for the union.
G4S Malawi is a profitable and successful enterprise, earning a designation as the G4S southern Africa "Business Unit of the Year" in 2006.