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Swaziland: Bring back AGOA status, say unions

6 September, 2017An IndustriALL affiliate, Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA), and the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) met in Manzini, Swaziland on 29 August and agreed to support Swaziland’s readmission to the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). 

Swaziland was suspended from AGOA in January 2015 for not respecting workers’ and human rights as seen in the refusal to register ATUSWA and TUCOSWA. Further, the Industrial Relations Act, the Suppression of Terrorism Act, and the Public Order Act, had sections which restricted freedoms of assembly, expression, and association. Concerns were also raised over the use of security forces to crush peaceful demonstrations and arbitrary arrests. Although some of the offending sections have been removed, more needs to be done.

The meeting called upon the government to adhere to international labour standards, respect human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Social dialogue that included active participation of stakeholders in the formulation and implementation of the AGOA utilization strategies was recommended. Emphasis was also put on inclusion of small scale indigenous Swazi companies and cooperatives rather than only big multi-national companies as beneficiaries.

The decision to call for the readmission was not taken lightly, but after extensive consultations and assessment by TUCOSWA. This included participation in the ILO process to review whether Swaziland had met the international standards on workers’ rights.

In a press statement released after the meeting, the unions stated:

“We support Swaziland’s readmission to AGOA because this will not only save jobs but create thousands more in the textile and apparel industry, and across the supply chain. In our fight for decent work, these jobs are an important lifeline for young women who constitute over 90% of the workers in this industry. By calling for the reinstatement, we are helping the Government of Swaziland to protect and create jobs, and to also develop sustainable industrial policies. The manufacturing sector is strategically placed to play a role in job creation and government policies must encourage foreign direct investment”.

Over 17,000 jobs were affected when AGOA benefits, which included duty-free exports to the US, were withdrawn.

The meeting took place on the side-lines of an IndustriALL-supported young workers' programme that saw youth going on a recruitment drive at Nhlangano’s textile factories, some 92 km from Manzini, where they addressed 2,000 workers, mainly women, during lunchtime. They stressed  the need to join the union to strengthen the fight for a living wage, and for better working conditions.

Nationally, ATUSWA is affiliated to TUCOSWA and globally to IndustriALL.