Swaziland national flag. Photo: WHL Travel
Swaziland: union repression throws thousands out of work
The continued repression of trade union rights in Swaziland is about to claim even more casualties in the form of unemployment in the textile industry.
The low labour standards and poverty wages that have attracted Taiwanese companies to set up shop in Africa’s last surviving feudal dictatorship have led to the US government suspending the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) that gave preferential access to the US market.
So Taiwanese-owned textile company Tex Ray has now announced that 1,450 workers will lose their jobs. The low wages and poor health and safety that Tex Ray have imposed on their workforce only make the company profitable, it appears, if the company can sell 100% of its output in the USA. And with AGOA suspended, that won’t happen.
The Swaziland government has tried to blame the trade union movement for the economic impact, claiming that union leaders who visited Washington recently and briefed US officials about the state of Swaziland’s laws should have called for AGOA to be re-instated. They even went so far as to threaten to strangle those leaders, a threat swiftly withdrawn and replaced by the banning of unions and employer organisations.
But it is the Government of Swaziland, repeatedly censured by the ILO for breaching core conventions, that is to blame for the poverty of workers in the country and now the loss of jobs. The unions have repeatedly defied anti-union laws to lead protests against the job losses and the repressive legislation, most recently taking nearly a thousand TexRay workers from Matsapha to Mbabane, a 60km return trip, to present a petition to the Prime Minister calling for the Government to do all it can to regain eligibility to AGOA.
Vincent Ncongwane, General Secretary of the country’s trade union federation TUCOSWA says Swaziland could lose about 17,000 jobs in total because of the failure to comply with the human rights requirements of AGOA. He says the government:
“has abysmally failed to address the benchmark that would have ensured that we did not get thrown out of AGOA. And these are benchmarks it willingly undertook in Geneva in 2013,. Our members are mobilizing for protest action. Of course the challenge is that they have ensured that they are prepared to crash any protest, but that is what our members are mobilizing to do. We want to hear from the minister as to what is it that this government have in mind as with regards to AGOA, beyond just misleading the international community.”
Swaziland is an object lesson in the false economy of taking the low road., which has led to misery for textile workers and their families, and left the country one of the poorest in sub-Saharan Africa. Better conditions and more freedom would unlock access to lucrative overseas markets, delivering higher wages and reducing poverty for the whole community.