Public servants in Swaziland / eSwatini are due to start a national strike on Monday (28 January 2019) in a dispute over pay. State police have been put on alert and there are fears they might use violence to disrupt protests as they have done in the past.
Government offices, ministries, departments, schools, clinics, transport departments, healthcare centres and hospitals, are among areas that could be affected. The strike is expected to last for five days. It could be repeated each month after that.
Four unions are involved: the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT); Swaziland National Association of Government Accountants Personnel (SNAGAP); Swaziland Nurses Association (SNA) and the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU). All are affiliated to the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA).
Workers have been campaigning for the past two years for cost of living salary increases of 6.5 percent. The government says it is broke and has offered zero percent. Unions say inflation in Swaziland has risen by 14.5 percent over the past two years. In a statement ahead of the strike the government said, ‘The taxpayers of Eswatini cannot pay cost of living adjustments (COLA) to Government employees for 2017/2018 and 2018/2019 while other stakeholders remain unpaid, while there are unfunded deficits and while Government salaries are already at unsustainable levels.’
Unions dispute this and say the government wastes money on ‘lavish’ spending on ‘non-priority and capital projects such as the construction of the International Convention Centre [ICC], funding of festivities such as the Umhlanga Reed Dance, 50/50 celebrations for the King’s birthday and Independence Day celebrations and catering for huge delegations to international trips.’
There are fears of police violence during the strike. In the past police fired live bullets, rubber bullets and teargas at workers and demonstrators who had been legally protesting. In September 2018 during a three-day strike the streets of Manzini, the kingdom’s main commercial city, were turned into a ‘battlefield’, according to local media. The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, the kingdom’s absolute monarch, said the bus rank in Swaziland’s major commercial city was ‘turned into a warzone as stun grenades, teargas, teasers and rubber bullets became the order of the day’.
The Times of Swaziland , the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, called it an ‘open battlefield’.
Armed police had been deployed across Swaziland. Videos and photographs of brutal police attacks were uploaded on social media. The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) in a statement said the videos showed ‘unlawful police actions’.
It added, ‘Several workers were wounded after police fired stun grenades to disperse the crowd in Manzini. These police officers then unleashed a wave of assaults against striking workers in an effort to quell the protests.’
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