IN THE INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS COURT OF MALAWI
MATTER NO. 33 OF 2001
FRANK S. CHANDILIRA…………………………………APPLICANT-and-
HON. M.C.C. MKANDAWIRE, CHAIRMAN
Applicant – Present
Respondent – Present
George Chapalapata – Official Interpreter
J U D G M E N T
Matters in Issue: Withholding payment of K17,000.00
The Applicant Frank Chandilira brought up this matter against the Respondent Sister Angella on a trade dispute of withholding payment of K17,000.00. The Respondent denied the allegation saying that as a result of the Applicant’s conduct, she had paid the balance of K17,000.00 to the people who had finished the job.
The Applicant had been employed or contracted to by the Respondent to build a house for the village headman where the Respondent is operating missionary work. The total contract amount was K30,000.00 The Applicant commenced the work with his own labour force. At the time the Applicant won this job, he was actually foreman for Brother Construction Company who were constructing a school at that same place. It would appear that the part time job with the Respondent did not go down well with the Applicant’s principal employers Brother Construction. As such, the Applicant’s employment with Brother Construction was terminated. At the time this termination was done, the Applicant had constructed the village headman’s house up to roofing level. It is the evidence from the Applicant that he temporarily left the site for his home due to problems he had experienced with Brother Construction. He however left a captain at the site and he was coming during weekends to check the situation. He told the Court that before he lost his job, he had received K13,000.00 from the Respondent as part payment. He was however amazed that when the whole house was over, he could not be given the balance of K17,000.00 because it was disclosed to him that the balance had been given to the workforce on the site.
The evidence from the sister was that after the Applicant had lost his job with Brother Construction, he disappeared from the scene. His workers were about to abandon the project since they had not received money from him since the project started. The Respondent said that she did not want the project to fail and promised them that if they finished the work, she would pay them the balance of K17,000.00 since the Applicant had already collected K13,000.00. That she did.
There were several witnesses six of them from the Respondent’s side who said that the Applicant had abandoned them after roofing level. They said that they did the plastering, flooring and pointing on their own. These witnesses said that since August 2001 to October 2001, the Applicant had not paid them money. One of them said that since the project started in August 2001, all he got from the Applicant was K200.00.
The village headman who said that he was very interested in the project since the house was his, said that on several occasions, he heard complaints from the workers that the Applicant was no where to be seen. He said that he personally used to visit the site and found that the Applicant had abandoned his workers at roofing level. The rest of the work was done by the workers on their own.
From the Applicant’s side, there were two witnesses one of the witness told the Court that he was left on site as the supervisor when the Applicant had lost his job with Brother Construction. He said that the Applicant used to visit them regularly during weekends. He said that he was however amazed to hear that people had received their cash directly from the Sister a thing he did not follow and understand how it happened.
The other Applicant’s witness said that since employed by the Applicant, he has been on site from foundation up to the time the house finished. He said that later on the Applicant vanished and they worked on their own. It later on transpired that the Sister arranged that they should be paid directly by her. He said that he was warned by his friends not to disclose to anyone. Since the Applicant had only paid him K200.00 he said that he also got his money from the Sister. He could however not tell the Court how much his wages were. He confessed that he was working blindly.
From the evidence on record, the Court was satisfied that after roofing level, the Applicant vanished from the scene. The workers finished the work on their own. It is also clear from the evidence that although the Applicant had collected K13,000.00 from the Sister, he did not pay most of his workers. For example, how could a person who has been on the project from August to October only have received K200.00? This was total exploitation. I find that the workers who were left on the site did the rest of the job on their own. The Court takes judicial notice of the fact that it is very easy to bring about walls for a house. But it is very difficult to do plastering, flooring and finishing like pointing. I also take into account that there were several people that the Applicant had not paid although he had collected K13,000.00.
I see nothing wrong for the Sister having rescued the workers who had dedicated themselves to the project. Moreover, may be this was a blessing in disguise. If the Applicant could not pay his servants from August to October, one would not be amazed if some of them would have totally received nothing had the balance of K17,000.00 again found its way to the hand of the Applicant. I think the Applicant is to blame. His vanishing from the project confused a lot of things and the Sister had no option. After all, she gave the money to the right people. I had doubts with the man he brought to the Court who claimed to have been his supervisor. If he was really on site, he could not have been ignorant of the events on the ground especially when the Sister was paying all these people. I therefore dismiss this matter.
MADE this ------- day of May 2002 at Lilongwe Industrial Relations Court.