Swaziland (eSwatini) has one of the worst workers’ rights records in the world, according to the latest annual survey by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
The kingdom scored five in the Global Rights Index which depicts the world’s worst countries for workers by rating 139 countries on a scale from one to five based on the degree of respect for workers’ rights.
ITUC said, ‘Workers’ rights are absent in countries with the rating five and violations occur on an irregular basis in countries with the rating one.’
It added, ‘Countries with the rating of five are the worst countries in the world to work in. While the legislation may spell out certain rights workers have effectively no access to these rights and are therefore exposed to autocratic regimes and unfair labour practices.’
Each country is analysed against a list of 97 indicators derived from International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions and jurisprudence and represents violations of workers’ rights in law and practice.
In a survey of workers’ rights in Swaziland (eSwatini) up to March 2020, ITUC reported, ‘Strikes were brutally crushed in eSwatini, where police forces fired live ammunition during a march of 8,000 public service workers in Manzini on 2 October 2019.’
It added, ‘Another march attended by 3,500 civil servants on 25 September to protest against low pay and rising living costs in the country was violently dispersed by the police with teargas, rubber bullets and water cannons, severely injuring fifteen workers.
‘A meeting that was attended by members of various public service unions on 28 January 2019 to discuss the court ruling to cancel the planned strike action on that day was declared illegal by the principle secretary of the Ministry of Education and Training, who circulated a message to all head teachers stating that it would be “illegal for any teachers to attend the meeting without prior permission from her office”.’
In October 2019 ITUC condemned police brutality during a week-long public sector strike in Swaziland. Previously it had criticised other police attacks on workers. More than 30 people were injured when police opened fire with rubber bullets. They also used water cannon and teargas on protestors during a three day strike for a cost-of-living salary increase.
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said in a statement, ‘Respect for workers’ rights, good faith dialogue and a government that responds to people’s needs and concerns – just like any other country, this is what eSwatini needs, not state violence against the people. eSwatini’s King Mswati pledged to us earlier this year to build these bridges, yet now we are seeing the government pulling all stops to undermine them.’
In a letter addressed to Swazi Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, Burrow highlighted past commitments to establishing dialogue. It added, ‘The use of violence, even for purported reasons of internal security, constitutes a serious violation of human and trade union rights.’
Burrow said, ‘The government claimed that the strike was a threat to national interests. If the Swazi people asking for decent working conditions is against this government’s version of “national interest”, then the government has got it totally wrong.’
In the letter to the PM, ITUC, which represents 207 million workers across 163 countries, called for an ‘urgent and impartial investigation’ into the police shootings. No investigation has taken place.
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