- In spite of recent changes in the legislation, the Swazi regime is reported to remain "fiercely anti-union," which had became obvious during the International Labour Conference last year, when the government representative openly threatened the union's General Secretary.
In Swaziland, the State of Emergency introduced in 1973 still remains in force. Political parties are banned and constitutional freedoms suspended. Large-scale action by national and international trade unionists during the last years however were to have reintroduced basic labour rights.
The Industrial Relations Act of 2000 was supposed to bring Swazi law in line with international standards, "but in reality it still contained some of the old restrictions from the 1996 Act," according to the annual survey of violations of trade union rights, released today by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
Threats of losing trading privileges, notably of being withdrawn from the United States' Generalized System of Preferences, had led to an amended Act being adopted in November 2000. This, in theory, allows workers to form trade unions, to draw up their own constitutions, and to negotiate their terms and conditions of employment.
According to ICFTU, however, the amended act still contains many discrepancies with international conventions. For example, the procedure for announcing a strike is long and complex. There must be a period of 70 days in total between the time a strike is announced and the date the action takes place, making legal strikes virtually impossible.
Further, a trade union faces civil liability for damage caused during a strike. Also, there is no effective protection for trade unions against employer interference. Finally, a trade union must represent at least 50% of workers in a workplace to ensure recognition. If it has under 50% representation, recognition is dependent on the goodwill of the employer.
The practical situation for trade unions is even worse that the legal framework. The trade unions, in particular the national centre, the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) "face fierce government attacks," says the ICFTU survey. "The general secretary of the SFTU, Jan Sithole, has become a hate figure for the regime."
The authorities were reported to have organised a smear campaign against him and accused him of embezzlement - but Mr Sithole was cleared of all charges. "The accusation came from the leader of a political party who wanted him to join them. When he refused, the party organised the campaign against him as it wanted the SFTU under its control," the report says.
Mr Sithole has been imprisoned several times in recent years and he and his family have received death threats. In 2001, he and five other trade union leaders were charged with contempt of court and brought to trial for continuing a stayaway that had been banned by the authorities. The case was dismissed.
The trade union rights report stresses that King Mswati's authoritarian power tightened up during 2002, "in a successful move to bring the judicial authority under his control." In November, the Prime Minister, Sibusiso Dlamini officially stated that King Mswati III's government had no intention of observing the Court of Appeal's judgement on two matters concerning labour rights. The Prime Minister also issued instructions to all law enforcement institutions to disregard the court's ruling.
In the first case, the Court of Appeal had ruled against the government's appeal not to commit the commissioner of police and a senior police officer to prison. Both the police commissioner and the senior officer had been found guilty for contempt of court after disobeying a court order to allow 200 families from Ka Mkhweli and Macetjeni to return to their homes. The King had ordered them to be forcefully evicted because they refused to pay allegiance to his brother, Prince Magagula, who had been imposed on them as their chief.
In the second case, the Court of Appeal had ruled in favour of an application by a local attorney to nullify the King's Decree No.3 of 2001 which allows suspects arrested for specific offences to be mandatorily detained without the option of bail. The 'Times of Swaziland' reported that on 19 December, the High Court gave Prime Minister Dlamini seven days to apologise and withdraw his statement overturning Court of Appeal orders, or the Court would not accept any more government applications. The entire Appeal Court had previously resigned.
On June 15, Queen Motsa, a Swazi senator and government delegate to the ILO Conference, openly and publicly threatened Jan Sithole, the SFTU General Secretary. Amongst other things, she stated that, should Mr Sithole "continue being troublesome against the country and against the state," she would personally ensure that "he would be made to suffer" when he returned to Swaziland from the conference. She added that "he will be made to walk on bare feet," implying that he might be forcibly impoverished or made destitute and also, by implication, that he might be imprisoned.
The senator then told Mr Sithole that, whatever he intended to say about the situation of his country at the International Labour Conference, he must think about his future and about his own children, if he said bad things about Swaziland.
Mr Sithole has already been intimidated, repressed and violently attacked for his trade union activities, together with other trade unionists. He also survived an assassination attempt, several years ago, allegedly carried out at the request the government's secret service agents.
Mr Sithole also pressed the government to drop plans to buy a US$ 72 million luxury jet for King Mswati's personal use at a time when a quarter of the country's population was facing famine and the HIV/AIDS pandemic was rapidly escalating.
The ICFTU survey lists violations of trade union rights all over the world. In Africa, in general, the lack of state control mechanisms and democracy had become more acute and was "further undermining the fundamental rights of the continent's citizens," according to a press release by spokesman Louis Belanger.
The survey had listed 37 African countries, where it had found violations of labour rights. Swaziland was one of those, and here, some of the gravest violations were registered. Only in Zimbabwe, the situation was registered to be even worse than in Swaziland.
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