5 May, 2022Despite intimidation by security forces, textile and garment workers in Eswatini are continuing their strike for living wages. Five weeks into the strike, the workers are reiterating their request for at least E15 per hour or E2983 (US$183) per month.
The workers determination comes amid attempts to stop the strike through intimidation and harassment by the police and the army. The union says the security forces are going as far as visiting workers homes and demanding that the workers must go back to work or face eviction from their places of residence. According to reports teargas has been fired into some of the residences.
Wander Mkhonza, ATUSWA secretary general says:
“Although we are fatigued – it has been a long five weeks – the strike goes on. We will continue to fight with everything within our power as a union until our demands are met. We are only fighting for living wages for our members, and I would like to emphasize that this is a labour dispute between workers and the employer. However, we are shocked by the threats to our members by security forces who are not part of the wage dispute.”
Contrary to the action by the security forces, the ministry of labour and social security said in its Workers’ Day statement that the government respected the International Labour Organization (ILO) “fundamental principles and rights at work.” Earlier the ministry had said the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA), affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, should take the grievances to the Textile and Apparel Sector Wages Council which is composed of employers, workers, and the government.
ATUSWA, which is leading the strike, says instead of addressing the wage dispute, the employers are colluding with the Government of Eswatini, which is supposed to be neutral, to intimidate and harass the union and the strikers.
Around 2,000 workers met on 2 May at Nhlangano industrial area - a hub of textile and garment factories – to reaffirm their commitment to the strike action. Some walked for more than 8 km to attend the mass meeting where 30 workers spoke in support of the strike, which they say must continue until their demands for living wages are met.
Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa says:
“We support the ATUSWA led strike and the demands for living wages as the cost of living is going up. As per IndustriALL congress resolution we call on the government of Eswatini to respect workers’ rights to strike and to collective bargaining. The government must respect the workers human rights and stop the intimidation and harassment.”