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Swaziland union federation dealt another blow

7 March, 2013The Industrial Court in Swaziland ruled against the legitimacy of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (Tucoswa), giving advantage to the repressive Swazi regime to undermine calls from labour for democracy ahead of national elections.

Organized labour across the globe applauded unity efforts in Swaziland that united workers under one federation when Tucoswa was launched in March 2012 through the merger of the two existing federations, the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) and the Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL).

The government of Swaziland initially congratulated the federation on its formation, but quickly changed its mind when Tucoswa took a resolution to call for free and fair elections in Swaziland including the unbanning of political parties. Tucoswa was deregistered under instruction from the Swaziland Attorney General and its legitimacy challenged.

The court found that whilst there was provisions in law to register individual trade unions, the existing provision for registering a federation had been removed with the Industrial Relations Act of 2000. Thus it was difficult for the court to interpret if the exclusion was deliberate. The judge called on labour to wait for a proposed amendment bill that provides for the registration of a federation to be enacted. 

The ruling has paralysed social dialogue in the country as labour has recalled all its members in tripartite structures including the Labour Advisory Council and representatives at the countries structure for conciliation and mediation of industrial disputes.

“Whilst the court has given a directive to government and Tucoswa to come to an agreement on its modus operandi until the amendment has been finalized, similar to a recognition agreement, the ruling confirms that there is no freedom of association in Swaziland, despite the legal framework that appears to give these rights,” said Mduduzi Gina, Deputy Secretary General of Tucoswa.

The ruling based on what seems to be a technicality, raises concerns that the judiciary is being manipulated to achieve the objectives of government’s agenda which has been to frustrate attempts by labour in calling for meaningful democracy in Swaziland. The denial of legitimacy to Tucoswa can be interpreted as a delaying tactic by government making it difficult for labour to have the right to organize actions on political issues ahead of national elections scheduled for later this year.