The Industrial Court in Swaziland has ruled that public service workers must make a new application before they can legally strike.
Unions have been in dispute with government over cost of living salary rises. A planned strike in January 2019 was halted because the Government of absolute monarch King Mswati III said it was political and threatened the national interest.
In Swaziland political parties are banned from taking part in elections and groups advocating for democracy are outlawed under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
Four public service unions calling themselves the Public Sector Associations (PSA) had joined forces to strike. They were the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU), Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), Swaziland Nurses Association (SNA) and the Swaziland Government Accountants Personnel (SNAGAP).
Unions and government are in dispute over cost of living adjustments (COLA) for the year 2017-2018. The Government says it cannot afford to pay and offered a zero percent increase. The result was a deadlock and the matter could not be resolved at the Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration Commission (CMAC).
Ahead of the intended strike the unions issued a press statement that criticised the government for increasing the budget for state security: the Army, Police and Correctional Services. And for increasing recruitment for these services, while decreasing recruitment in other areas such as education, health and public services.
They also called upon every concerned Swazi ‘from all walks of life’ to support the strike. They also extended their claim for COLA to include the year 2018-2019.
The Attorney-General for the Swazi Government argued this statement was outside the scope of the pay dispute and made the strike a political one. It was against the national interest to allow the strike to go ahead.
The Industrial Court ruled, ‘There is no doubt in our minds that a threat to shut down clinics, health centres, hospitals and transport will have or is likely to have the effect of endangering the lives of part of the population at the very least.’
The court said members of the Swaziland Nurses Association were not allowed by law to strike because they were engaged in an essential service.
The Court ruled, ‘With regard to the facts of this matter the main issue of the strike is the COLA dispute which is a legitimate demand of the PSA’s. The [Ministry of Labour and Social Security] themselves have admitted that the dispute exists only because they are unable to pay same due to the fiscal challenges the Government faces.’
It added, ‘We cannot say that the proposed strike is one of a purely political nature.’
It also said that the unions claim for COLA in 2018-2019 had not been included in the original dispute that had been to arbitration and could not be considered.
The Court decided, ‘The strike action cannot be allowed to continue in its present form even if the matter now included in the statement is excised and the employees who are part of essential services are excluded. In our view, the Respondents [the unions] would require to issue fresh notices in order to achieve the legal requirements for protected strike.’
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