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Swaziland: Union welcomes return to US-Africa trade agreement

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19 January, 2018IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA), has welcomed the readmission of Swaziland as a beneficiary to the US’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). 

Swaziland was removed from the list of beneficiaries three years ago for not respecting workers’ rights including freedoms of assembly, association and expression. To reverse this, the government worked closely with the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland, to which ATUSWA is affiliated, to improve on the rights. The US subsequently restored trade benefits to Swaziland on 23 December 2017.

AGOA is a trade agreement that allows duty free market access to the US for products from Sub Saharan African countries. The product range includes textile and apparel. According to the US International Trade Administration 33 countries qualify for AGOA benefits.

Wander Mkhonza, secretary general of ATUSWA, says:

“We are encouraged that our beautiful country is back within the AGOA fold. Our readmission is a testimony that great achievements can only be realized when government, labour and employers work together for common good."

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

“Linking trade agreements to workers’ rights is important, and this makes the return of AGOA a welcome development. Workers’ power comes from increases in membership, and membership cannot grow if trade unions rights are not respected."

ATUSWA is also hoping that court cases challenging its existence as a union will be concluded soon. The union says the cases are dividing workers and holding it back. For instance, the union is unable to receive subscriptions from workers whose membership is in dispute.

On collective bargaining, ATUSWA is campaigning for a joint negotiating council in the textile and apparel sector. The union disagrees with suggestions that Swaziland is not ready for collective bargaining because the Industrial Relations Act supports it. According to the union, the current set up in which wage councils are responsible for bargaining is leading to low wages thus threatening workers’ livelihoods. The wage councils, made up of people handpicked by the government, are not representing workers.

ATUSWA says it will continue to fight companies that are anti-union and campaign for minimum wages. Further, it will recruit young workers, ensure safe and secure jobs, transparent workplaces, and better industrial relations.