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“We will be killed by hunger before the coronavirus gets us”

6 May, 2020Over 18,000 workers in the textile and garment sector in Eswatini have not been paid since the announcement of the lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19. This means that the workers have no money to buy food, pay rent, bills and other basics.

Thandi, a garment worker at Fashion International in Matsapha, says:

“We have not been paid and are trying to survive with the little money we have. It is hard. The employer must give us our money so that we can buy food. Some of the women in the factory are widows and it is extremely difficult for them.

“We will be killed by hunger before the coronavirus gets us. We need our wages as we cannot buy even salt. We are struggling to pay rent. Why is the employer not paying us when they have the money?”

Another worker, Sizwe, from FTM factories in Nhlangano, says:

“When my child got sick, I had no money to take him to hospital, and ended up begging. With the low wages that I earn, I have little savings.”

The Amalgamated Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA), affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, is demanding that the workers be paid from the provident fund they contribute to.

“We are campaigning for employers to pay living wages to workers and not for them to even fail to pay the low wages that workers struggle with every month. This non-payment is even more painful under the tough lockdown conditions. The Eswatini National provident fund can be used to pay wage of at least Emalangeni 1400 (US$76) but our long-term goal is for wages to be over E3500 (US$190),”

says Wander Mkhonza, ATUSWA general secretary. 

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches says:

“In the midst of a pandemic that is killing thousands of workers daily, employers must act responsibly by not worsening an already dire situation. Workers must be paid their wages timely. Expecting workers to stay at home without food for their families is unacceptable.”

In a letter to Eswatini Prime Minister, Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini, Sanches stresses:

“We sincerely hope that the current negotiations between the government, employers and labour will be able to entail urgent actions to support the workers by immediate payments rather than expose them to a dual crisis of Covid-19 and poverty.”

Average wages are E1,700 (US$92) per month.