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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Swaziland

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Swaziland, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 18 February 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

One of the largest strikes in recent years, in the textile sector, was brutally repressed by the police. Trade union leaders are subjected to constant harassment.

Trade union rights in law

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

The 2006 Constitution, which entrenches the political status in force since 1973, 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 Constitution also constitutes a threat to trade union rights, since the notion of breaching state security can be interpreted very broadly.

Many legal restrictions: The current Industrial Relations Act (IRA) allows workers, apart from those employed in the export processing zones (EPZs), to form trade unions, to draw up their own constitutions, and to negotiate their terms and conditions of employment. Members of the police 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.

Right to strike – collective action is 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 and violations in 2008

Background: The parliamentary elections in September, which were not open to any political party, gave rise to more protests. The extravagant lifestyle of the royal family is increasingly contested in a country where two-thirds of the population lives in dire poverty and the rate of HIV/AIDS infection (around 40%) is the highest in the world.

Refusal to recognise two unions: The authorities continued to refuse to recognise the Swaziland Police Association (SPA) and the Swaziland Correctional Service Union (SWACU), although the new Constitution had opened up this possibility through allowing all workers to form and join trade unions.

Numerous violations in textile factories: Violations are common in textile companies, and the abuses appear to be committed with the collusion of government authorities. On 5 March, a dozen workers from the textile sector were injured by the police in the Matsapha industrial zone in Manzini. Police used tear gas and beat the demonstrators, who were marching peacefully. According to the Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers Union (SMAWU), the employers gave instructions to the police to repress the demonstrators, although the march had been authorised by the competent authorities. The strike had started on 3 March and involved over 16,000 workers, mostly women. Their demands were for a wage rise but also for an end to the brutal and disrespectful behaviour of the employers, who were mainly Taiwanese investors. In February, the SMAWU had denounced the action of the Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration Commission, which had done all it could to prevent the smooth operation of the strike vote, thereby showing blatant favouritism towards the Swaziland Textile Exporters Association (STEA). The workers had also been threatened with dismissal if they voted to strike.

Repeated arrests of union leaders: For several years now the top trade union leaders have been in the sights of the authorities. Jan Sithole, the General Secretary of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), was arrested twice in 2008, for instance. On 21 August he was arrested, by more than 30 police officers, after taking part in a demonstration by unions and civil society organisations to protest against the participation of the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, and the King of Swaziland, Mswati III, at a meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Johannesburg. On 18 September, on the eve of the undemocratic parliamentary elections, Jan Sithole was again arrested, this time along with several other trade union and political leaders; they were on their way to the border between Swaziland and South Africa to protest against the deterioration of the political, economic and social situation.

Job insecurity: The regime ignored the deregulation measures taken by employers to make jobs less secure. Many skilled workers, most of whom are union members, have lost their jobs as a result of this. This type of policy has weakened trade unions in the sugar industry and the hotel sector.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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