Swaziland Bans Unions

Swaziland has ordered all worker and employer federations to stop operations immediately, a demand issued yesterday in a resolution by the government cabinet. The order effectively disbands the Trade Union Confederation of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), a Solidarity Center ally.

Minister of Labor and Social Security Winnie Magagula, quoted in the Times of Swaziland, said that in the wake of the resolution, “all federations are non- existent in terms of the Industrial Relations Act and should stop operating immediately until the amendment of the Industrial Relations Act has been passed by Parliament.”

The move runs counter to international labor standards, including the right of freedom of association.

“This is a blatant and outrageous attack on the ability of working people to form associations of their choice and stand up for their rights,” said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “By denying workers a voice at work, the Swazi government is preventing workers from achieving safe and healthy workplaces and wages that will support themselves and their families.”

A recent TUCOSWA survey of more than 400 textile workers in Manzini, Swaziland, found that workers in the textile sector are subject to harsh and sometimes abusive conditions, many of the country’s labor laws are routinely violated by employers, and union activists are targeted by employers for punishment.

In June, the U.S. government took the rare step of suspending African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade benefits for Swaziland, citing the Swazi government’s systematic violations of fundamental worker rights, including lack of ability for unions to register.

Magagula was quoted as citing the International Labor Organization (ILO) as directing the move, a charge the ILO unequivocally denies.

Condemning the action, AFL-CIO International Director Cathy Feingold wrote in a letter to Swazi Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini that it “is the latest in a series of actions designed to repress and restrict legitimate trade union activities in Swaziland.”

Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) general secretary, said, “We demand that the ruling be rescinded immediately.” The ITUC also sent a letter to the Swazi prime minister, condeming the move.

In August, some in the Swazi government falsely accused TUCOSWA General Secretary Vincent Ncongwane and human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze of taking a stand against AGOA benefits for Swaziland when they were in Washington, D.C., as part of a delegation of 40 African trade union leaders.

The 2014 U.S. State Department human rights report cites serious human rights violations in Swaziland, including arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; severely restricted freedom of assembly, including violence against protestors; jailing of trade union leaders; the deregistration of TUCOSWA and the banning of strikes.