Swazi unions demand pay rise

Thousands of workers demand better wages during march to Swazi PM's office in Mbabane today BLOG1.500 Swazi workers marched in Swaziland’s capital Mbabane on Thursday, as part of a two-day strike action, where they delivered a petition to Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini demanding increased salaries for public sector workers.

The march was part of a six-month-long demand by Swazi trade union federation TUCOSWA for the government to release a salary review report that highlights working conditions of public sector workers across the country. The salary review report is supposed to be released every 5 years, to ensure that the level of salaries keeps up with inflation, but no report has been released since 2004.

The lengthy report was finally released on Wednesday by local firm LCC Capital Consulting after the government had initially said it contained “confidential” information and was not for public consumption. According to local newspaper Times of Swaziland, the report proposed a salary increase for civil servants of between 18 and 40 percent.

Big spender, but not on workers
According to the movehub.com website, the average salary in Swaziland is US$4,827 compared to $19,215 in neighbouring South Africa, $7,591 in neighbouring Mozambique, $37,029 in the United Kingdom and $72,328 in Norway.

Two thirds of the population of Swaziland survives on less than a dollar a day, and an ongoing drought in the country has further destroyed the livelihood of many Swazis.

At the same time the Swazi government has recently spent an estimated US$250 million on a new international airport and plans to buy new cars for visiting heads of state and government when Swaziland hosts the Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting next year.

Swaziland’s government and Prime Minister, as well as part of parliament and the entire senate, is handpicked by the country’s absolute monarch King Mswati III.

Sympathy for cops and warders
Thursday’s march was peaceful, unlike many previous union and other marches in Swaziland, where police often used force to intimidate or disperse demonstrators.

Perhaps this was because Swaziland’s 5000-strong police force ought to receive a US$3 million salary rise, according to the report.

TUCOSWA Deputy Secretary Mduduzi Gina said he was sympathetic towards the plight of police officers and warders, and that the government ought to consider their welfare, along with that of Swazi civil servants in general.

Broad support
The marching civil servants were supported by a number of other organisations, including the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF), an umbrella organisation of all progressive democratic forces in Swaziland.

“Thousands of workers are marching. SUDF supports these public sector workers as they push for better salaries”, said SUDF coordinator Wandile Dludlu, who himself took part in the march.

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