- A new report by international trade unions named Swaziland the "worst offender on workers' rights." Even worst practices such as institutionalised forced labour and child labour are common in the kingdom.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) today issued a report on core labour standards in the countries of the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU), which comprises Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. Swaziland stood out as the "worst offender" by large.
In the totalitarian kingdom, legislation limits the right to organise and restricts collective bargaining instead of promoting it. Also freedom of association is severely restricted.
"In Swaziland, the law does not allow strikes, and the police use excessive violence to repress any strikes that take place, arresting unionists and their leaders and using torture to obtain information," the global trade union found. Further, the trade union leadership faces civil liability for damages or income losses caused during a strike and the police have made excessive use of violence to repress strikes, the report says.
Among the report's findings is that exploitation of child labour in all the SACU members remains an unrecognised problem, largely due to social norms that tolerate and foster it. Except for South Africa, governments are insufficiently active in addressing the problem. Child labour is found chiefly in informal economic activities and in agriculture, while child prostitution and trafficking are also reported in the entire region.
The report's findings show that there has been some progress on the issue of forced labour in SACU countries, with the exception of Swaziland where the government has institutionalised forced labour on the "grounds of tradition" in order to build infrastructure or undertake cultivation at no cost. Current laws provide for the duty of Swazis to "obey orders and participate in compulsory works." Participation is enforceable with severe penalties for non-compliance.
The Swazi Department of Labour has 1600 inspectors authorised to apply the labour law and report violations, including child labour. However, the report notes, between March 2006 and April 2007, "there were only 7 violations of the legislation concerning hazardous work, 12 violations for domestic labour and one for child slavery."
The ITUC report is presented as the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) is reviewing the trade policies in the SACU customs union. WTO members are obliged to comply with basic labour standards in order to get free access to global markets.
While all of the SACU member states are found to violate core labour rights, the ITUC team was especially shocked by standards in Swaziland, whose government seemed to categorically violate all labour rights.
The report concluded in a call on all SACU member countries "to improve the training of labour inspectors and law enforcement officials in order to identify and remedy cases of child labour, forced labour and violations of trade union rights, as well as improve the application of the penalties foreseen under the law."
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