A trade union representing textile workers in Swaziland (eSwatini) is planning a strike before Christmas, accusing Taiwanese-owned businesses in the kingdom of colluding with the government to underpay employees.
They say the money the companies save will be presented to absolute monarch King Mswati III as tetfulo (gifts).
The Swaziland News, an online newspaper, reported on Tuesday that such gifts were normally given by people who wanted favours from the King.
The News reported Warnder Mkhonza, the Secretary General of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA), said most Taiwanese investors had royal connections.
It added, ‘Mkhonza said they have noted that Taiwan was now funding government operations through various donations while on the other hand, workers are complaining of low wages.’
The News quoted Mkhonza saying, ‘Our country has become more like a Taiwanese colony and this has negative impact in the lives of the working class particularly the textile workers. The Taiwanese donate millions for social responsibility projects including cultural events like Incwala and Umhlanga. This happens while workers are complaining of low wages and government is staggering in addressing this issue because our authorities are highly connected and personally benefiting from Taiwan.’
The News added, ‘Mkhonza said the Taiwanese might be doing all this because they have since realized that corruption was legitimate in the country and running in the veins of the royal family.’
Mistreatment of workers in the textile industry in Swaziland has been known for many years and workers have staged strikes and other protests to draw attention to the situation.
ATUSWA is campaigning for a minimum wage of at least E3,000 (about US$250) per month. At present, it is reported most textile workers earn between E1,300 and E1,500 per month. They are supported by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA). ATUSWA reported workers had been sacked for trying to join the union.
In July 2014 a survey of the Swazi textile industry undertaken by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) revealed workers were subjected to harsh and sometimes abusive conditions, many of the kingdom’s labour laws were routinely violated by employers, and union activists were targeted by employers for punishment. More than 90 percent of workers surveyed reported being punished by management for making errors, not meeting quotas or missing shifts.
More than 70 percent of survey respondents reported witnessing verbal and physical abuse in their workplace by supervisors.
In its report on human rights in Swaziland in 2013, the US State Department said wage arrears, particularly in the garment industry, were a problem. It said, ‘workers complained that wages were low and that procedures for getting sick leave approved were cumbersome in some factories. The minimum monthly wage for a skilled employee in the industry - including sewing machinists and quality checkers - was E1,128 (US$113 at the time). Minimum wage laws did not apply to the informal sector, where many workers were employed.
‘The garment sector also has a standard 48-hour workweek, but workers alleged that working overtime was compulsory because they had to meet unattainable daily and monthly production quotas.’
In September 2014 hundreds of workers at Tex Ray were affected by poisonous chemical fumes at the factory in Matsapha. Many needed hospital treatment and the factory was closed for several days.
In May 2015, it was estimated 3,000 people in the textile industry lost their jobs when the United States withdrew trading benefits under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) because of Swaziland’s poor record on human rights which included workers’ rights.
Swaziland makes a lot of its relationship with Taiwan. It is the only nation in Africa that officially recognises Taiwan. In 2018 Taiwan gave the King US$1.3 million towards the cost of his 50th birthday celebration. In April 2018 the King called on the United Nations to admit Taiwan to the organisation. Taiwan, which calls itself the Republic of China on Taiwan, is not recognised by the UN because the People’s Republic of China claims the territory as its own.
Exploitation by Taiwan textiles