Unban TUCOSWA, says ILO, unions, NGOs

After years of negotiations, Swaziland’s trade unions federations decided to merge into one organisation, the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA). The Swazi government chose not to recognise TUCOSWA, in violation of the rules of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that Swaziland has ratified.

During its International Labour Conference in June, the ILO demanded that “the [Swazi] government should immediately proceed to the registration of TUCOSWA.” Until Swaziland’s government chooses to do so – something that won’t happen without pressure from within and outside Swaziland – the trade union movement in Swaziland, and thus Swazi workers, are left without a voice.

And Swaziland’s population need the voice of a trade union congress to demand their rights in a country where all that question the rule of absolute monarch King Mswati III are met with threats, violence, torture and imprisonment. In a country that is nominally a middle-income country but where two thirds of the population survive on less than a dollar a day, many without having a meal every day. And in a country where the government routinely and often violently breaks up any demonstration, protest or union event.

TUCOSWA has over 50.000 members through the two trade union federations that formed it – the SFTU and SFL. Several other trade unions are affiliated to TUCOSWA, including the teacher’s union SNAT, the public sector employees union NAPSAWU, and the plantation workers union SAPWU.

TUCOSWA was initially registered in January 2012, although this registration was withdrawn in April after TUCOSWA had called for a boycott of the 2013 elections. TUCOSWA is therefore in effect an illegal organisation (and treated as such by the Swazi police), and as the SFTU and SFL were disbanded after the creation of TUCOSWA, Swaziland is effectively without a trade union federation.

Examples of the police’s treatment of TUCOSWA was when police officers stopped a sermon at the Catholic Centre in Manzini that was arranged by TUCOSWA in March 2013, claiming that the meeting constituted an illegal gathering, or when the police arrested a teacher for carrying a bag with a TUCOSWA-logo and a worker for possessing a TUCOSWA-banner.

Swaziland’s Industrial Court also banned TUCOSWA from organising activities during May Day, raiding TUCOSWA’s head office, and arresting President Barnes Dlamini and Vice Secretary General Mduduzi Gina. Several other TUCOSWA-members were kept under house arrest. According to Mduduzi Gina, “even in other repressive regimes workers are allowed to celebrate may Day. Only in Swaziland were the festivities stopped.”

According to the constitution of TUCOSWA, the organisation works to “promote, encourage and assist in strengthening the democratic rights of workers in the Kingdom of Swaziland,” and it also “affirms its commitment to the establishment of a democratic society anchored on social justice.”

TUCOSWA has complained about its deregistering to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) – a UN agency dealing with labour issues and standards – and the International Trade Union Confederation over the repeated violation of ILO Convention 87, that deals with freedom of association and the right to organise and amongst other things recognises the right to unionisation and to start trade union federations such as TUCOSWA. Swaziland has signed all of the ILO’s core conventions, including Convention 87.

Trade Unions all over the world have condemned the Swazi government’s treatement of TUCOSWA. Education International (representing over 30 million teachers in over 170 countries) wrote a letter to Swaziland’s Prime Minister demanding that TUCOSWA is recognised. The British national trade union centre, TUC (representing 6,5 million Britons), last year stated that Swaziland should ensure the “full respect of trade union rights,” including the unbanning of TUCOSWA. UNISON (representing 1 ½ million British civil servants) condemned the deregistering of TUCOSWA, and the beatings and harassment of its members, in a letter of support. And South African COSATU “is deeply appalled by the continued onslaught and harassment against the leadership and members of the Swaziland trade union federation, TUCOSWA.”

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which is the largest trade union federation in the world, representing over 175 million members in 155 countries, brought Swaziland before the ILO congress in June. In a report from June 2013, the ITUC also described organisational rights in Swaziland as severely limited, not least the right to strike.

NGO’s have also condemned Swaziland’s attacks on TUCOSWA. The American research and advocacy NGO, Freedom House, has urged “Swaziland to end these attacks on the constitutional rights of its citizens and to allow civil society groups to associate and assemble peacefully   … [as this is] a clear violation of its commitments under International Labor Organization (ILO) treaties.” And Amnesty International describes how this de-registration has been seen by the police as a reason to arrest, assault and threaten union officials and activists who in any way display affinity to TUCOSWA in their latest annual report.

And the Southern African Development Community, an organisation that works to improve economic development in the Southern African region, can act on Swaziland’s non-compliance to its treaties. According to the SADC-treaty, that Swaziland signed in 1980, Swaziland has committed itself to respect human rights, democratic principles, and the principles of the rule of law. Failure to comply with the treaty may result in SADC imposing sanctions against Swaziland.

Swaziland has also been reprimanded by the ILO again and again for repeatedly violating ILO Convention 87. The ILO have sent two so called “high level missions” to Swaziland, in 2006 and 2010 respectively, and have announced that they will be sending another in the near future.

Links:
ILO Convention 87
Swaziland Industrial Relations Act

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