Sunday, May 31, 2015


The refusal by King Mswati III, the absolute monarch in Swaziland, to accept democratic change in his kingdom has cost at least 3,000of his subjects their jobs.

This is because the United States withdrew Swaziland’s trading privileges under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA).

Swaziland had previously been able to export to the United States without having to pay tariffs. This privilege ended on 1 January 2015.

In the six months since, at least 3,000 jobs have been lost in the textile industry, dominated by Taiwanese companies.

The Observer Sunday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati reported the job losses and the difficulties faced by workers who had been retrenched or laid-off. But, it did not make the connection between the plight of the former workers and King Mswati’s refusal to give up his power in the kingdom of 1.2 million people.

All political parties are banned from taking part in elections, the King chooses the Prime Minister and the government and the top judges. All public discussion for democratic reforms is crushed by police and state forces and democrats languish in prison in remand awaiting trial on sedition charges under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

The King has a personal stake in great swathes of the Swazi economy and he uses dividends and royalties from these to finance a lavish lifestyle which includes a private luxury jet aircraft, a fleet of top-of-the-range Mercedes and BMW cars and at least one Rolls Royce. He also has 13 palaces in his kingdom which is about the same size as the US state of New Jersey.

Meanwhile, seven in ten of his subjects live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 per day. More than a third of the population rely on international food aid in any given year.

The Observer on Sunday reported this week (31 May 2015), ‘The loss of AGOA, effectively at the beginning of this year, resulted in two major textile factories closing down. These are Tex Ray and Leo Garments. Knitwear also closed down but for less than a month as they re-opened a few weeks later.

‘Close to 3,000 lost their jobs when these factories closed shop a few months ago. Some of these were fortunate as they managed to get employment in other factories while others migrated to South Africa. However, a majority of these workers were left unemployed and had to seek alternative employment.

‘About five factories have conducted these lay-offs, which have seen a number of workers sitting at home without getting paid. The factory owners have attributed these lay-offs to non-availability of a market for their products. Some of the factories include Union Washing, Kasum Investments, New Life and Kang-Fa at Siteki.’

The Observer interviewed some of the workers. One of them said, ‘The money we earn is very little and it being deducted means nothing but poverty for most of us.’

Another said, ‘We have really suffered because of this issue and are hoping that government will meet all the requirements needed for us to get it back. Our lives were turned upside down and some of us had to relocate and find much smaller houses to rent because I could no longer afford the two-room I rented before.

‘We are also being subjected to degrading treatment from our employers. What is saddening however is that we have, through our union, tried to engage labour officials but there isn’t much that has been done to address our concerns.’

The US had wanted Swaziland to implement the full passage of amendments to the Industrial Relations Act; full passage of amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act; full passage of amendments to the Public Order Act; full passage of amendments to sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act relating to civil and criminal liability to union leaders during protest actions; and establishing a code of conduct for the police during public protests.

In June 2014, announcing the withdrawal of AGOA, a White House spokesperson said, ‘The decision to withdraw Swaziland’s AGOA eligibility comes after years of engaging with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland on concerns about its implementation of the AGOA eligibility criteria related to worker rights.’

The statement said after an ‘extensive review’ the US, ‘concluded that Swaziland had not demonstrated progress on the protection of internationally recognized worker rights. In particular, Swaziland has failed to make continual progress in protecting freedom of association and the right to organize. Of particular concern is Swaziland’s use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to stifle peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for labor and employer federations.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman, said, ‘The withdrawal of AGOA benefits is not a decision that is taken lightly.

‘We have made our concerns very clear to Swaziland over the last several years and we engaged extensively on concrete steps that Swaziland could take to address the concerns. We hope to continue our engagement with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland on steps it can take so that worker and civil society groups can freely associate and assemble and AGOA eligibility can be restored.’






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