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Swazi affiliate challenges union busting at textile factory

16 March, 2017IndustriALL affiliate the Amalgamated Trade Unions of Swaziland (Atuswa) is fighting for recognition of the union at garment factory, Fashion International, where a large majority of workers want to organize.

Management at Fashion International has rejected union membership forms signed by 1,600 of the 1,900 employees. In response, the union has taken the employer to court for refusing to recognize the union and for not complying with ‘collective bargaining duties and obligations’.

Earlier this month, the company insisted on a ballot conducted by the Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration Commission, to determine union support amongst the workers. All workers but one voted in favour of the union, sending a very clear message on the will to organize.

Although the company claims to guarantee fair labour practices it is amongst the worst employers in the textile and apparel sector. Desperate to keep the union away, they sometimes threaten to close down the factory if workers do not resign from the union,

says Wander Mkhonza, Atuswa secretary general.

The workers are very clear – they want a union and Fashion International must grant them their organizational and collective bargaining rights and recognize ATUSWA as a partner.

The company also engages in unfair labour practices that adversely affect workers’ health and safety. For instance, sick workers are forced to come to work, and doctors’ visits restricted to only four hours after which a worker must report for duty. Failure to do so often results in disciplinary action.

Workers are asked to bring sick children to work if they want time off to take the child to hospital. Sometimes this never happens or permission is given too late for hospital hours. The employer is also notorious for refusing to pay sick leave of more than two days. Reducing sick leave days is common and forces unwell workers to come to work.

In addition, workers are forced to work on Saturdays, which is not a working day. But if workers do not turn up they are disciplined, and dismissals are common.

Fabian Nkomo, IndustriALL regional secretary, says:

Fashion International must immediately engage in a constructive dialogue with the union. Working conditions in the factory must be improved and workers must be granted their organizational rights.