Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Swaziland

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2007
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Swaziland, 9 June 2007, 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

In the words of Jan Sithole, General Secretary of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, Swaziland excels in both ratifying international conventions and violating them in practice.

Trade union rights in law

State of emergency still in force: The State of Emergency, introduced in 1973, suspended constitutional freedoms.

A new national constitution was signed into law in 2006, entrenching the political status in force since 1973, which 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.

Many legal restrictions: The current Industrial Relations Act (IRA) allows workers to form trade unions, to draw up their own constitutions, and to negotiate their terms and conditions of employment. Police officers are not allowed to form unions.

However, unions must represent at least 50 per cent of workers in a workplace to ensure recognition, (an unreasonably high percentage) and failure of this test leads to recognition being dependent on the employer's goodwill. There is also no effective protection for trade unions against employer interference.

There is no right to form unions in the export processing zones (EPZs).

Strike action virtually impossible: The procedure for announcing a strike is long, lasting up to 74 days, and the procedures for voting on strike action are complex, thus making legal strikes virtually impossible. Should a strike take place, the trade union faces civil liability for any damage caused during a strike.

The IRA prohibits protest actions in "essential services," which include police and security forces, correctional services, fire fighting, health and many civil service positions.

Government fails to fulfil its promise to bring in improved labour legislation: Repeated government assurances to the ILO that it will amend its legislation to bring it in line with international labour standards have so far proved meaningless.

Trade union rights in practice

Attempts to discredit union leader: The trade unions, in particular the national centre, the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), face fierce government attacks. The SFTU General Secretary, Jan Sithole, has become a hate figure for the regime, with smear campaigns against him, imprisonment several times in recent years and death threats to him and his family.

Government policy: The regime has turned a blind eye as employers pursue casualisation and deregulation policies which have resulted in many skilled employees (who are largely trade union members) losing their jobs. The effect of such policies in the sugar processing and hotel sectors has been to weaken the trade unions.

Export Processing Zones: Workers who become shop stewards or join a union are fired on the spot. Anyone taking part in a strike is also dismissed, even if the action is legal. Some employers use physical punishment as a disciplinary measure in the textile sector, which is illegal, but the employers are not sanctioned.

Thanks to the pressure brought to bear by the US union centre AFL-CIO, which is able to press for the withdrawal of Swaziland's preferential access to the US market under the Generalised System of Preferences, improvements have been secured in the labour legislation, but they still need to be put into practice. Any improvements in the working conditions of EPZ workers are attributable to the auditors sent by the buyers and not the government's labour inspectors.

Numerous violations in Chinese textile factories: Violations are common in Chinese-owned companies, and appear to be committed with the collusion of government authorities. Violations include the refusal to recognise unions; surveillance of activists both in and outside workplaces by hired security staff; victimisation of activists and representatives and known union members; a ban on workers gathering in groups during breaks, and physical assaults by security guards.

Violations in 2006

Background: Following the passing of the new Constitution, which consolidates the country's absolute monarchy, 20 pro-democracy activists, led by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) were attacked with rubber bullets and arrested on 12 April during a protect blockage of the border between the two countries. Eight protestors were injured. They were eventually acquitted on 22 August. The majority of Swazi live in rural areas and tend to support the monarchy.

Union official harassed by police after HIV/AIDS workshop: Shadrack Masuku, education officer for the Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers' Union (SMAWU), was interrogated by police on 18 January after he had attended an HIV/AIDS workshop organised by Southern African trade unions for "hanging out with foreigners".

Police officer on indefinite suspension for trying to form union: On 21 February, Alpheous Mhlanga, a serving police officer, was suspended indefinitely on half pay for "professional misconduct", after he tried to register the Swaziland Police Association as a union. Mhlanga attempted to form the union on the ground that banning security force members from joining an organised labour group conflicts with the rights of workers under the new constitution.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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