Friday, June 21, 2019

No guarantee of workers’ rights in Swaziland, ITUC reports, and it’s getting worse

There is no guarantee of workers’ rights in Swaziland/ eSwatini and it is getting worse, a report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) concluded.

ITUC placed Swaziland, which is ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III, near the bottom of countries across the world. It said in the past year ‘police brutality reached unprecedented levels’ and ‘security forces fired live ammunition at protesting workers’.

In a review of workers’ rights during 2018, ITUC reported, ‘In eSwatini, a peaceful demonstration, organised by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) to deliver a petition to the deputy prime minister’s office, was brutally repressed by armed forces on 29 June 2018. 

‘The police prevented workers from reaching the deputy prime minister’s office by using water cannon and tear gas canisters, and attacked demonstrators with batons. Four members of TUCOSWA were gravely injured and taken to the hospital, while Majembeni Thobela, a security guard who was marching this day, received severe beatings and was left unconscious covered with blood on his face from head injuries. 

‘The police did not even bother to rush him to the hospital, and first aid was later applied to him by other marchers. Many demonstrators ran for safety, with pursuing police beating everyone in sight with batons. Some were cornered and severely assaulted by the police. A week after the events, two people were still in a critical state in hospital.’

The ITUC Global Rights Index ranked 145 countries on the degree of respect for workers’ rights in law and in practice. It reported the situation n Swaziland /eSwatini had worsened since last year.

The case highlighted by the ITUC was not an isolated incident. In August 2018, for example, police attacked three separate demonstrations by workers protesting for better pay and conditions. 

Police fired several gunshot blasts while textile workers, mostly women, protested at Nhlangano about poor pay. More than 200 paramilitary police and correctional facility warders with riot shields, helmets and batons guarded the entrance to Juris, one of the major factories, according to a local media report. It happened on 30 August 2018 when five firms closed after management locked gates after workers gathered.

On the previous Friday police shot and wounded a schoolteacher during a march in Manzini. On the Wednesday that week in Mbabane nurses were tasered. Both groups were protesting at the Swazi government’s decision to offer a zero increase in their salary cost of living adjustment.

In September 2018, police blocked nurses who were legally trying to deliver a petition to government as part of their ongoing campaign against service cuts. One local newspaper reported a policeman’s baton was broken in two during the confrontation.

Also in September, police officers were captured on video viciously attacking defenceless workers on the street in Manzini during a legal protest over pay. Dozens of  officers in riot gear and waving batons were seen chasing workers. At least one officer appeared to be wielding a whip. Workers were seen running fearing for their safety. The police indiscriminately hit the fleeing workers around their bodies. It was on the first day of a three day national strike organised by TUCOSWA. Protests took place simultaneously in the towns and cities of Mbabane, Manzini, Siteki and Nhlangano.

The strike had earlier been declared legal under Swaziland’s Industrial Relations Act.

On 13 April, police fired rubber bullets as about 2,000 workers and supporters took to the streets of Mbabane to protest against worsening living conditions. The AFP news agency reported one protestor was hit in the thigh by a rubber bullet.

See also 

Swaziland police fire gunshots during textiles dispute, third attack on workers in a week

Swaziland teacher who stopped police chief shooting into unarmed crowd appears in court

Police in Swaziland attack nurses with taser during peaceful protest over pay

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