Population: 1,186,000
Capital: Mbabane

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Injuries: 1
Arrests: 27

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Leaders of the country's national trade union centres faced continual harassment, including repeated arrests and raids on their homes. The authorities stalled the registration of a new national trade union centre that will merge the two principal organisations. At a meeting to prepare for the merger, ten trade unionists were arrested and detained. Three leaders were also arrested at an HIV/AIDS workshop, and many arrests were made during the pro-democracy demonstrations, including two visiting trade unionists from South Africa.


Swaziland's economic troubles deepened and the government announced it was going to cut 7,000 civil service jobs. Nearly 70% of the population live on less than one dollar a day, 40% are unemployed, yet King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch, has a massive personal fortune. An estimated 25% of adults have HIV, the highest rate in the world. In April the police cracked down heavily on the opposition, notably the trade unions, ahead of pro-democracy demonstrations. A Global Week of Action in solidarity with Swaziland's pro-democracy movement took place at the beginning of September, leading to further repression. An anti-government demonstration had to be called off in March after a campaign of intimidation by the government.

Trade union rights in law

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.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Trade unions repressed with ever greater ferocity: Trade union activities are being repressed with ever greater ferocity in Swaziland. Repeated arbitrary arrests, intimidation and beatings are used to silence activists. In the absence of any genuine social dialogue, trade unions resort to public protests and demonstrations which are violently repressed by the police and army using teargas, batons and rubber bullets. In the April and September pro-democracy demonstrations some of those taking part were taken away in trucks and abandoned in remote, faraway places, in the middle of nowhere, after having their mobile phones confiscated. Others, notably trade union leaders were beaten and intimidated, out of the view of the press. Fears ran particularly high given the memory of Sipho Jele, a trade unionist who died whilst in custody shortly after his arrest during May Day 2010. Police claimed he committed suicide but independent pathologist reports questioned this.

SFTU still a government target: In a country where political parties are still banned the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) has long played a leading role in the pro-democracy movement. As a result it has come under fierce attack. Former SFTU general secretary Jan Sithole was constantly targeted by the regime for his activism, facing defamation, imprisonment and death threats. Barnes Dlamini, current SFTU president, appears to be suffering the same fate. He has been arrested several times, as have other leaders of the SFTU and the Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL). Mr Dlamini's home was raided twice in April ahead of pro-democracy demonstrations and his family harassed.

Lack of trade union rights impacts health and safety: The widespread disrespect of trade union rights in Swaziland has had a serious impact on health and safety, notably in the construction industry where accident rates are particularly high. Employers often do not provide protective clothing for their workers, who in many cases are unaware of their rights regarding occupational health and safety. The Secretary General of the construction union Mtshali Selby told an international trade union delegation that visisted the country in March, "We are still using socks instead of gloves". The delegation was also told that workers faced low wages and delays in salary payments. There were few if any labour inspections and trade unions had to work under difficult conditions.

Trade union rights firmly suppressed in EPZs: Workers in the export processing zones (EPZs) who dare to 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 in the textile sector use physical punishment as a disciplinary measure.

Collective bargaining curtailed: Collective bargaining is restricted in its coverage. The government is the country's biggest employer and, through the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment and Social Security, sets wages and benefits on an annual basis. This involves consultation, but no negotiations with the unions.


Raid on SFTU President's home: Representatives of the security forces went the home of the president of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) Barnes Dlamini on 11 April, on the eve of pro-democracy protests, at around 3 o'clock in the morning, waking his family and frightening his children. They searched the house without a warrant.

Police raid SFTU vice-president's home: Police raided the home of Simon Mvubu, the first vice president of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), at the end of April, apparently searching for bombs further to a tip-off. Mr. Mvubu said that the explanation given to him at the scene lacked credibility, as there was no information the police had about him that impacted on national security, as alleged by the commissioner. He believed the real reason was victimisation and harassment on account of his SFTU membership.

Trade unionists arrested at HIV/Aids workshop: The three trade unionists, Barnes Dlamini, President of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), Gugu Malindzisa of the International Research Academy for Labour and Education ( IRALE) and Emmanuel Dlamini of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) were arrested on 14 May while facilitating a workshop in the Eastern Town of Siteki, on building capacity within society in order to tackle HIV and Aids and empowering women. The three men are the Swazi coordinators for a UK government funded project with the UK private sector union Unite, promoting equality and tackling HIV and Aids. The workshop was part of the project. The three men were briefly detained then later released but the arrests disrupted the workshop.

Police detain ten trade unionists: Ten trade unionists were arrested on 14 May as they attempted to hold a meeting in preparation of the merger of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) and the Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL) into a new organisation, the Trade Unions Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA). Those arrested were Gugu Malindzisa of the Labour Coordinating Committee and the UNITE project, Phumelele Zulu of the SFL, Splasha Musa, Paul Mabila, George Mthethwa, Titus Nhleko, Bongani Siyaya and Emanuel Dlamini, all from the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), Bongani Shongwe from the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU), and Gcinaphi Pateguana of the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU). Armed police disrupted the meeting shortly after it began and took the unionists to the Lubombo Police Regional Headquarters. Barnes Dlamini, President of the SFTU was chairing the meeting, and was questioned on the spot by police as to its purpose. The police also wanted the names of all those present. The unionists were detained for an hour before being released. They chose not to continue with the meeting as they could not guarantee the safety of their members. The police claimed the meeting was illegal although the trade unionists pointed out that they did not require police permission in order to meet.

Police raid SFTU president's home again: The home of Barnes Dlamini, President of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), was raided by police looking for bombs on 20 June. Mr. Dlamini was woken up by at least 12 plain clothed officers who demanded to search his house for bombs and other bomb making material. The search lasted about three hours and some of Mr. Dlamini's political books were taken away. He was then taken to the police station to be questioned, although he says the police were polite throughout. SFTU Deputy Secretary General Vincent Dlamini believed that the harassment of their members may have been linked to the recent International Labour Conference in Geneva where the SFTU put their government in the spotlight. " This is not so much about looking for bombs and other material but rather about intimidation", Vincent Dlamini alleged. The police denied harassment.

Government delays creation of new trade union body: On May Day trade unions announced the creation of a new trade union body the Trade Unions Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) that would merge the country's major unions, including the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL), National Public Servants and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) and Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT). TUCOSWA founding organisations submitted an application for official registration in August but received no response from the government, delaying the founding congress that was due to take place by the end of the year. Union leaders believe that the government was purposely delaying the application, fearing the bargaining power that would be created by the amalgamation of these organisation. Once merged, the new body would boast approximately well over 50 000 members.

Police arrests two COSATU officials: Police arrested two officials from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) on 7 September. COSATU had sent a 45 member delegation to Swaziland to support their trade union colleagues there during the Global Week of Action for democracy. Two of the delegates, deputy president Zingiswa Losi and deputy international organiser Zanele Matebula had gone to the southern town of Sitheki to take part in the march. Zingiswa Losi was about to address the marchers when riot police approached and ordered her not to. Losi and Matebula were arrested and taken to the police station for questioning before being released after an hour. Both were later deported. The protests were legal and had been sanctioned by the courts in Swaziland.

Teachers' leader hospitalised after scuffle with police: The president of the Siteki branch of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), S'phasha Dlamini, was hospitalised after being injured in a scuffle with police in a protest march on 7 September during the Week of Action. The incident occurred when riot police mounted the stage to prevent delegates from the Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU) to address the march (see article "Police arrest two COSATU officials"). Mrs Dlamini asked the police to leave the two women alone, and was then arrested. She tried to resist the arrest and the police dragged her along the ground, so roughly that she sustained severe bruising to her arms and legs. She was questioned in a police car for a few minutes and then dropped off outside the hospital. A nurse said Mrs Dlamini's condition was not critical.

Join union – lose benefits, workers told: Employees of Swazi Wire received a memorandum from management on 12 October informing them that they stood to lose nine benefits and more if they joined a union. The memorandum arrived as the workers were about to unionise under the banner of the Swaziland Processing Refining Allied Workers Union (SPRAWU). Until then they had negotiated through a works council but felt that it was not doing enough. Workers were confident that they had more than the 51% support required to form a union, and saw the memorandum as a carefully timed piece of intimidation. The benefits to be forfeited included: salary advances; school fees loans; end of year bonuses and others.

Swazi police teargas trade union protesters: Police fired teargas outside a courthouse in the capital Mbabane on 1 November to disperse protesters calling on the Supreme Court to stop its work and respect a strike by lawyers. About 30 union leaders had gathered to support the lawyers but found that riot vehicles had ringed the courthouse and armed guards were positioned outside and inside the building. Zwele Jele, spokesperson for the Swaziland Law Society, denounced that people were being put through criminal appeals without representation. Striking attorneys walked out of the first session on 1 November saying hearings should be suspended until the labour dispute is resolved. The dispute began in June when Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi suspended High Court Judge Thomas Masuku for allegedly "insulting" King Mswati III. Masuku, seen as one of the only critical voices in the Swazi judiciary, was fired in September.

Trade union leaders targeted in attempt to deter pro-democracy demonstrations:

Trade unionists played a leading role in the widespread pro-democracy protests across Swaziland in mid-April, which were met with violent repression by the security forces of King Mswati. Heavily armed police and military officers occupied Manzini and other key centres, teargas was used against protestors, and there were reports that security forces had fired live ammunition. There were many arrests, including those made at the headquarters of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) and the Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL) which were surrounded then invaded by police. Police also used tear gas and water cannon at the headquarters of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) to disperse hundreds of teachers who were chanting and dancing.

Amongst the hundreds detained on 12 April were trade union leaders Barnes Dlamini, President of the SFTU; Vincent Ncongwane, Secretary General of the SFTU; Muzi Mhlanga, Secretary General of the SNAT; Sibongile Mazibuko, President of the SNAT; Nomkhosi Dlamini Gumedze, Secretary of the SFTU Women's Committee; Quinton Dlamini, President of the National Public Service Allied Workers' Union (NAPSAWU) and SFTU Central Executive Committee; Bheki Mamba, President of the Swaziland National Nurses Association (SNNA), and Phumelele Zulu, executive member of the Swaziland Federation of Labour and Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) activist.

Barnes Dlamini gave details of his arrest in an interview with the ITUC. "They stopped me as I was on my way to the protest and took me to the police station where they held me in detention for around nine hours. They then took me home and four police officers were stationed in front of my house for three days to make sure that I didn't leave."

The trade unions and the Swaziland United Democratic Front were calling for genuine democratic transition, an end to the emergency decree enacted by the King in 1973, and the lifting of the ban on political parties.

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