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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Swaziland

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Swaziland, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 26 May 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 1,100,000
Capital: Mbabane
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Police brutally arrested and manhandled workers taking part in international workers' day celebrations. More trade unionists were arrested and some deported when they took part in pro-democracy events in September, while the offices of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) were raided. Trade union rights are restricted, and lawful collective action is virtually impossible. In several cases employers dismissed workers who took part in strike action.


Basic trade union rights are recognised in the law, and the Industrial Relations Act was amended in 2010 to take into consideration some issues that the ILO has commented on for many years. Nevertheless, trade unions still face a harsh legal environment. The 2006 Constitution entrenches the State of Emergency in force since 1973, which suspends constitutional freedoms. It also invests all power in the King's hands, bans opposition political parties and meetings, and gives the government the ultimate executive, judicial and legislative authority. The Suppression of Terrorism Act was renewed in 2010, and is used to target trade unions.

The law bans prison staff and workers in export processing zones from forming and joining unions. The dispute settlement procedure that must be exhausted before a strike can be called is long and cumbersome. Trade unions also face civil liability for any damage caused during a strike.


Background: A Global Day of Action for Democracy in Swaziland was held on 7 September as part of a worldwide programme of solidarity action beginning on 6 September, Swaziland Independence Day. Nearly 70% of the population still live on less than a dollar a day and the unemployment rate is estimated at 40%. Thousands of jobs were lost in the private sector during the year as a result of company closures in the wake of the financial crisis. In November it was announced that about 7,000 public servants in Swaziland would lose their jobs in cutbacks as part of a government bid to gain International Monetary Fund (IMF) approval for a loan.

Firm rejection of a police union: During a ceremony on 1 April to hand over office to his successor former Police Commission, Edgar Hillary, restated his firm opposition to trade unions in the police. He stated that "a union has no place in the police service or any disciplined force. Unions in such formations can only cause division, uncertainty and anarchy". The ILO still leaves the question of trade unions in the police and armed forces to the discretion of Member States.

Continued repression of trade union activity: In an interview given to a London student's newspaper in February 2010, B.V. Dlamini, deputy secretary general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) described the trade union rights situation in the country as follows: "When workers go on strike, the government sends the police to beat the hell out of them. There are even cases where police agents were shooting the workers just because they went on strike, demanding better working conditions. The government said that it was "not going to tolerate [strikes], because it will chase [away] investors". Mr. Dlamini also explained that while Swaziland was often one of the first countries to ratify international conventions, including ILO Conventions, it was usually also the first to violate them.

Hotel refuses to negotiate: The Royal Villas Swaziland (Pty) Limited refused to negotiate with the Swaziland Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union (SHCAWU). It claimed SHCAWU's two representatives, Mathokoza Bhembe and Nokuthula Mamba, were illegally in office as shop stewards, thereby making the negotiation process defective. In January it announced it would take the union to court.

Police brutality against trade unionists celebrating May Day: Police arrested and brutally manhandled trade unionists gathered for the workers' day celebration organised by the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) in Manzini, Swaziland's industrial capital, on 1 May. Police and prison officers entered the stadium where the event was being held, searching for workers wearing t-shirts of the banned political parties People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO). The SFTU is closely involved in the pro-democracy movement in Swaziland. Many workers were beaten and violently arrested for more thorough searches at the police station.

Among the workers arrested was a youth activist, Wandile Dludlu, who was taken in for wearing the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) t-shirt and an African National Congress (ANC) cap, which was later confiscated. When the police were confronted by the leadership of both SFTU and Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) on their actions, they claimed to have arrested the workers for other offences.

Police also arrested the guest speaker from the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, Miss Marie Da Silva and Swaziland Consumers' Forum (SCF) representative, Peter Mpandlana, on the pretext that he was" not a worker". The guest speaker from the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), Alex Langwenya, was held by the police until the event was nearly over, preventing him from giving his speech. Simangele Mmema from SNAT had been asked to video the event, but police officers confiscated her recording equipment, deleting everything on it.

Trade unionist dies in custody: One worker died in custody after being arrested during May Day celebrations. Sipho Jele was a member of the Swaziland Agriculture and Plantation Workers' Union (SAPWU) and the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO). The police arrested him during a military-style invasion of a sports stadium in Manzini where workers had gathered for an event to mark international labour day. They took him to his home where, according to his aunt, they searched the house and found nothing more than Jele's PUDEMO membership card. He was forced to have his picture taken showing this card before being taken away. Two days later, the correctional services department announced that Sipho Stephen Jele had committed suicide in the toilet of a prison cell.

According to information received by the ITUC, the police exerted pressure on Jele's family for him to be buried quickly, in an overt attempt to conceal the real cause of death. Furthermore, the inquiry appointed by the Prime Minister of Swaziland was carried out by the police's own correctional service staff. Given the circumstances of his arrest, trade unionists and democracy activists fear he was killed for his activism. Pathologist reports say there were signs suggesting he was strangled. The Jele family endured further suffering when they were denied the right to give Sipho a traditional burial.

Teachers' union muzzled: In June the Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Service (SBIS), refused to announce a statement issued by the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) announcing a forthcoming SNAT meeting as it had not been approved by police. Senior personnel at the radio station claimed they always required "big organisations" to have announcements accompanied by police approval. The requirement had never been formally communicated to the relevant organisations and had never been applied before. This led the union to believe that it was part of the government's continued suppression of all entities linked in any way with the pro-democracy movement.

Truck drivers dismissed for go slow action: The Simunye branch of the Cargo Carriers Logistics Company dismissed 22 truck drivers at the end of June for allegedly engaging in a go slow strike. The truck drivers were dismissed after disciplinary hearings. The 22 were among the 24 drivers that engaged in the go slow strike to express their anger at the management's failure to address a number of their grievances. The company was granted an order by the Industrial Court directing the workers to stop the go slow. Before the disciplinary hearing the company had suspended the 24 drivers for engaging in an illegal activity. The Swaziland Transport and Allied Workers Union (STAWU) Simunye branch said the drivers had appealed the decision of the disciplinary hearing.

Trade unionists arrested and deported: Police detained 50 people on 6 September including Swazi activists and representatives from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) . The police broke up a peaceful meeting of pro-democracy activists in Manzini before taking them to police headquarters. The meeting was taking place ahead of the 7 September Global Day for Action for Swaziland to support its struggle for democracy and human rights. All the detained workers were later released from police detention and the South Africa trade unionists were deported immediately. A delegation of about 20 people from the South African Municipal Workers' Union (SAMWU) was denied entry into the country.

SFTU offices raided: On 7 September police raided the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) offices, confiscating pamphlets and placards that had been prepared for the pro-democracy demonstration, A Global Day of Action for Democracy in Swaziland held on the same day.

Dismissed for protest action: Unitrans, a South African fuel supply company, dismissed 43 workers, represented by the Swaziland Transport and Allied Workers' Union (STAWU) on 18 October. The following day it locked out 143 workers and obtained a court order for them to stay at least 200 metres away from the company premises.

The dispute began when the union expressed concerns over the mistreatment of workers by a contract manager. Management failed to resolve this grievance. As a result, on 14 October the union indicated it wanted to hold a meeting on the company's premises at 6am on 18 October. The company sought a court order to prevent the meeting taking place but its application was rejected. The meeting went ahead and the workers agreed they would only resume work on condition that the grievance against the contract manager be resolved and that he be denied entry into the premises except to attend a hearing.

The company issued ultimatums advising the employees to return to work. As they did not do so they were given letters terminating their services, informing them they were dismissed for participating in an "illegal" work stoppage.

More employees downed tools and resolved not to return to work until the charges against their colleagues were withdrawn; management responded by implementing the lockout. STAWU said that all 143 workers were effectively dismissed. They appealed against their dismissal and the union called for government intervention.

Minister outlaws STAWU protest action: Following the dismissal of 124 workers at UNITRANS in October, the Swaziland Transport and Allied Workers' Union (STAWU) applied to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to hold a one-week protest from 15 to 22 November. The protest was not only to call for the reinstatement of the sacked colleagues but also to press for new regulations governing pay scales and greater respect for workers' rights. STAWU noted that its members had also been dismissed from other companies, such as Transship, Cargo, Express Cargo and Fuelogic. In some cases dismissal occurred without hearings or relevant procedures, demonstrating the lack of respect for workers rights. The union also argued that its members were underpaid through labour brokers who do not follow the correct payment scale. The application was rejected by the Minister, Ntuthuko Dlamini, who said, "I only approve table negotiations requests and not protest actions or marches in my ministry".

Dismissal threats following pay strike: Over 500 textile workers risked losing their jobs at the end of the year at the textile company HOs Enterprise following a strike over bonus pay. The workers went on strike after management failed to confirm whether they would be paid their annual bonus. Management called in the police to remove them from the premises and told them they were being sent home for the end of year holiday period. They were warned they would probably have to reapply for their jobs in the New Year and that no one was guaranteed a job. A manager at the company confirmed that it had plans to ask workers to reapply for their jobs and that those who took part in what she termed the "illegal" strike could be dismissed.

Retailer intimidates union members: PEP Stores appeared to be blatantly discriminating against members of the Swaziland Commercial and Allied Workers Union (SCAWU) by favouring non-union members when granting wage increments in December. The company was engaged in a dispute over wages with its employees. It was reportedly intimidating those who were members of the union, forcing them to withdraw their membership.

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