Blantyre, Malawi - Striking Malawian civil servants claimed to have brought government business to a halt on Wednesday, as they staged a walkout to demand higher wages.
On Lilongwe's Capital Hill - home to the presidency and over 20 ministries - workers rallied and blocked entrances with tree branches.
“All offices are closed and that means you can't get any service whatsoever,” Elia Kamphinda Banda, president of the Civil Service Trade Union, told AFP.
The strikers are demanding a salary review, just months after being granted a 21-percent pay hike.
“Malawi's civil servants are lowly and poorly paid,” said Banda. “We are demanding a review of the salary structure otherwise we will continue our stay-away.”
Unions are asking that the strike be extended to workers in hospitals and other essential services so “ordinary people start feeling the pinch.”
The government called on strikers to return to work and so further talks can be held.
The state is “fully committed” to reaching a “mutually satisfactory resolution” to the crisis, according to McPhail Magwira, an Education Ministry official who heads up the state's negotiating team.
Malawi's 170 000 civil servants receive an average monthly wage of $100.
The government, which depends on donor support for up to 40 percent of its development budget, will spend $340 million (270 million euro) this year on salaries.
President Joyce Banda has introduced a series of austerity measures to resuscitate the country's economy.
The economy came under extreme pressure after donors suspended aid because of the hard-line policies of late president Bingu wa Mutharika.
He died last year of a heart attack. - Sapa-AFP