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Union takes Zheng Yong garments to court over dismissal of 20 workers in Eswatini

4 August, 2022Garment manufacturer Zheng Yong Swaziland has dismissed 20 workers for going on a strike for minimum living wages, and the Amalgamated Trade Unions of Swaziland (ATUSWA) is challenging the dismissals.

The five-week strike took place from April 5 to May 9 with the main demand being wage increases of at least E15 per hour or E2983 (US$179) per month. However, the employers awarded a paltry 7.25 per cent increase or E12 per hour.

The union says instead of engaging on the workers demand, the employers teamed up with the government and used strike breaking tactics and violence against the workers including teargassing them in their homes and threats of violence. According to the ITUC Global Rights Index for 2022, Eswatini is amongst the “10 worst countries for working people.”

Further, it’s been over three months since the garment manufacturer gave the dues that it is collecting from 1247 workers to the union. By not surrendering the dues as per the labour laws, Zheng Yong, which employs about 4000 workers, is flouting national labour laws, says ATUSWA which is affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union. The union says withholding the dues is a form of union busting as it violates Section 43 of the Industrial Relations Act which states that an employer “shall promptly remit” union dues after collection. ATUSWA argues that the employer’s actions can be construed as punishing workers for going on strike which is against the law.

To resist the push back, ATUSWA is taking Zheng Yong to the Industrial Court to challenge the dismissals and for violating workers freedom of association. Additionally, the union says the employer must respect trade union rights.

Wander Mkhonza, ATUSWA secretary general says:

“Zheng Yong and other employers must improve working conditions in the garment and textile sector and not always resort to threats and legal action. Employers must engage with the union when there is a dispute instead of taking drastic action such as dismissing workers for striking for living wages.”

“Adopting an anti-union stance is detrimental to promoting industrial harmony between ATUSWA and Zheng Yong. The employer must pay living wages especially after recent increases in the cost of living. We recommend approaches that promote social dialogue and mediation and arbitration to resolve the dispute,”

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