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Eswatini police disperse workers petitioning for living wage

17 March, 2022Over 5,000 workers from 15 factories in the textile and garment sector braved the rains to present a petition on living wages to the department of labour in Nhlangano on 15 March. However, the police dispersed the workers while denying permission for other marches planned for Manzini and Matsapha to take place.

Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA) says this action by the police violates national and international labour standards that include Convention 87 (freedom of association and protection of the right to organize) and Convention 98 (right to organize and collective bargaining).

ATUSWA is rejecting the 6 per cent wage increase being offered by the employers, with support from the Textile and Apparel Wages Council (TAWC). The union wants minimum wages of E2923 (US$194) per month.
ATUSWA, affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, says there is over-reliance by the employers and the government on the Wages Council to determine wage increases. The union says this is beyond the Wages Council’s role which is to regulate minimum terms and conditions of employment as opposed to negotiations and collective bargaining.

Further, in the last three years, the TAWC has failed to reach consensus on the workers’ demands for living wages. Unfortunately, the council always seems to rule in favour of employers, who have become arrogant while workers continue to earn low wages, says ATUSWA in the petition.
Wander Mkhonza, ATUSWA secretary general says:

“After intense consultations with our members and those workers who are yet to be organized; the workers resolved to reclaim their fundamental rights and demand decent wages and better living conditions in and outside their workplaces.

“What worsens the problem is that collective bargaining has been actively stifled by government through the department of labour which is neglecting its oversight responsibilities. This neglect makes it possible for employers to suppress the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.”

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa says:

“We commend ATUSWA members for their courage to stand up for workers’ rights in a hostile environment in which workers live in fear and are dispersed by the police for picketing for living wages.”

IndustriALL’s 3rd Congress passed a resolution for democratic reforms on Eswatini and for the government to respect “freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression which are essential for human and trade union rights and that the government of Eswatini must adhere to United Nations Conventions including the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights.”

IndustriALL has written letters to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the Southern African Developing Community to call upon the Eswatini government to protect workers and human rights.
ATUSWA and other trade unions are campaigning for democracy and an end to the country’s absolute monarchy under King Mswati III. Proposed dialogue by the government towards a constitutional democracy is yet to take place.