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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Swaziland

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Swaziland, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 20 January 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

Trade union rights are restricted, and lawful collective action is virtually impossible. The country's highly respected trade union leader, Jan Sithole, continued to face harassment, including death threats. Bank workers' collective bargaining demands were continually ignored.

Trade union rights in law

Trade unions 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. Workers in export processing zones are exempted from freedom of association. To obtain recognition, a union must represent at least 50% of the workers in a given workplace, or be voluntarily recognised by the employer.

Collective bargaining is allowed by virtue of the Industrial Relations Act. Furthermore, the right to strike is severely limited, as the procedures for voting on strike action are complex and the procedures for announcing a strike are very long, lasting up to 74 days. Trade unions also face civil liability for any damage caused during a strike. The list of "essential services" exceeds the ILO definition.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Political parties remain banned and the country has been in State of Emergency for over 35 years. Unemployment is widespread, about 70% of the population live below the poverty line and the country has the world's highest rate of HIV infection. Swazilad Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) official, Sibusiso Mashaya ,was murdered in May by a local gang, although it appeared to be criminal violence not directly related to his trade union activity. In September, the leader of the opposition PUDEMO party, Mario Masuki, was released from prison, after being detained since November 2008 under anti-terror laws.

Repression in the textile sector: The textile sector has become notorious for its anti-labour and anti-union practices, particularly foreign-owned companies, principally from Taiwan, who employ a mainly female workforce. Any protests about their poor working conditions are dealt with severely. In March 2008, police intervened against thousands of textile workers engaged in a legal strike to demand higher wages. The workers, mainly women, were hit with tear gas canisters, beaten heavily with batons and shot at with what were suspect to be live rounds.

Trade unions under fire: In the absence of any credible political opposition, trade unions in Swaziland have been in the forefront of efforts to promote democracy. As a result, they have been a target of constant harassment and repression. Union leaders have been arrested, protesters beaten and political parties banned. Speaking at the International Labour Conference in June, the General Secretary of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), Jan Sithole reported that he had been a victim of police harassment and arrests, and that he and his family have been receiving death threats. At the end of its proceedings, the Conference's Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations of the ILO devoted a special paragraph to Swaziland in its report, a measure reserved for the worst cases of rights violations.

Unions still refused recognition: The authorities have continued to refuse recognition to the Swaziland Police Association (SPA) and the Swaziland Correctional Service Union (SWACU). Additionally, union activity is not effectively protected against employers' interference, although the law protects unions from governmental interference. It has been reported that employers' interference with workers' councils has contributed to the failure of some trade unions to negotiate collective agreements. Furthermore, there are reports that some employers dictate which decisions are taken in the workers' councils.

Bank obstructs collective bargaining: By the end of July, SWAZIBANK and Swaziland Union of Financial Institutions and Allied Workers (SUFIAW) had been re-negotiating their collective agreement since September 2007. The bank was expected to produce and deliver a counter proposal to the union's draft collective agreement on or about 29 April, 2009. The bank did not deliver the counter proposal as expected. At a further meeting on July 29, when no counter proposal was on the table, the union decided to refer the matter to the Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration Commission (CMAC). The Industrial Court later ordered both sides back to the negotiating table, urging them to bargain in good faith.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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