Statement from the Trades Union Congress (TUC), UK, following the deregistration of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA).
7 April 2012
Ahead of a day of action by Swazi democrats and trade unionists on 12 April, the TUC has joined international trade union protests at the deregistration of the newly merged Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), which held its founding conference only a month ago. General Secretary Brendan Barber has protested to the Swazi High Commissioner in London, as well as to the Commonwealth Secretary General, reiterating the Commonwealth Trade Union Group's demand that Swaziland be suspended from the Commonwealth for human and trade union rights abuses.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has issued the following briefing about the situation in Swaziland.
The trade union movement in this small Southern African country is struggling to survive under one of the last remaining absolute monarchies in the world.
Swaziland has the highest HIV infection rate in the world. Sixty-three percent of its population lives under the poverty line and gets by on less than $1.25 a day. King Mswati III, however, lives in abundant wealth: in July 2010, Forbes Magazine estimated his personal fortune at 100 million USD. His daughters take his private jet to go shopping in Europe.
Meanwhile, everyday life in Swaziland is marked by serious violations of democratic, human and trade union rights. These include extrajudicial killings by security forces, mob killings, the use of torture by the police, beatings and the use of excessive force on detainees, police impunity, arbitrary arrests and lengthy pre-trial detentions, restrictions on freedom of assembly, association and movement, prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists, discrimination and violence against women, the harassment of labour leaders, and restrictions on workers' rights.
Swaziland has been ruled under a state of emergency for 39 years now, since King Mswati's father and predecessor, Sobhuza II, issued his Proclamation to serve as the country's fundamental law on 12 April 1973, thereby establishing what has become known as the Tinkhundla regime. The international trade union movement has, time and again, denounced the incessant violations of trade union rights under the king's harsh rule.
To date, political parties remain forbidden, in spite of the adoption of a new Constitution in 2005, which in itself is still highly ineffective in preserving fundamental democratic rights, including trade union rights. Trade union activities are systematically labelled as political and then severely repressed. This sadly culminated in the death of Sipho Jele, a trade union activist who was arrested for wearing a T-shirt from a political party at a 2010 May Day celebration, and who subsequently died in police custody in suspicious circumstances.
On numerous occasions, the Swazi government has been called to account for this state of affairs in international bodies, such as the International Labour Organisation's Committee on the Application of Standards (ILO CAS). This Committee has exposed the Swazi government, for a number of years in a row now, for serious breaches of workers' rights as enshrined in ILO Convention 87 (on Freedom of Association). It is one of the rare cases in which the workers find an ally in the employers' federations, who are equally fed up with the undemocratic arbitrariness of the regime.
In spite of all the circumstances, our Swazi trade union colleagues have upheld the struggle for fundamental workers' rights. Through the admirable and internationally recognised work of the Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL) and the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU), the workers of Swaziland have had a voice and representatives who took their interests to heart. In a development which was closely followed and warmly encouraged by the international trade union movement, the SFTU and the SFL, together with the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), undertook to merge into one unified, strong national trade union centre: the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA). This new organisation, with an estimated membership of 50,000, held its first congress on 9-11 March 2012.
However, the serious failure by the Swazi regime to implement Convention 87 has now come to a new all-time low: it decided to repeal TUCOSWA's registration. This was communicated to them by the Attorney General, who wrote to TUCOSWA to say that he would advise the Labour Commissioner to withdraw it.
In a meeting with the Labour Commissioner on Thursday 5 April, which was adjourned due to a number of fundamental disagreements, it was confirmed to our TUCOSWA colleagues that the organisation would be deregistered. The Labour Commissioner repeated the argument of the Attorney General, ie that there are no provisions in Swazi law that regulate the merging of different trade union organisations, and that the law had therefore to be amended before TUCOSWA could be registered as a trade union (sic). She actually went as far as to say that the law doesn't even contain provisions on the registration of national federations, which by implication now also threatens the Swazi employers' federation.
While the government has in recent years done some efforts to convince the ILO of its goodwill, e.g. by accepting ILO missions on Swazi territory as well as ILO assistance to amend its legislation, this is yet another illustration of how serious it really is about implementing Convention 87. The ITUC is appalled by this latest disruption of the Swazi trade union movement and by its cynical argumentation, which it protests and denounces in the strongest possible terms. We demand that the deregistration of TUCOSWA to be immediately and unconditionally repealed, and for the Swazi government to stop interfering in internal union affairs and to respect Convention 87, which it has ratified.
Thursday 12 April 2012 will mark the 39th anniversary of the Tinkhundla. We can no longer stand by and watch the rights of our fellow workers in Swaziland being trampled on day after day. The ITUC thinks it is time the regime understands that it can't get away with everything. The international community must convey the message to the government of Swaziland that the country will have to unambiguously choose the path of democracy, and provide the basic conditions for the full respect of the fundamental rights of its people.
Traditionally, 12 April will also be marked by actions from civil society organisations, who seize the occasion to demand for the establishment of a fully-fledged democracy. We fear, however, that Swaziland will once again be the scene of disproportionate repression and police violence. To avoid another dramatic outcome like on May Day 2010, when a trade union activist was killed, we urge the Swazi government to refrain from this kind of excessive violence, and respects the right of workers to peacefully gather and demonstrate.
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