Swaziland is an absolute monarchy where human and trade union rights are curtailed. King Mswati III, on the throne since 1986, rules only by decree. He is upholding the tradition of his father, King Sobhuza II, who reigned for almost 61 years and had scrapped the constitution in 1973 and banned political parties.
In April 2012, the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) was de-registered. EI’s affiliate, Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) was one of the founders of TUCOSWA, together with the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions and the Swaziland Federation of Labour.
The government banned TUCOSWA a few months after registering it, making it impossible for the organisation to hold events without security forces breaking up meetings and violently attacking workers. EI, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) regularly condemn violations of basic trade union rights occurring in Swaziland.
In June 2013, the ILO has again strongly urged the government to allow TUCOSWA to exercise its trade union rights, “in accordance with the principles of freedom of association, including the right to engage in protest action and peaceful demonstrations in defense of their members’ occupational interests.”
In September 2013, EI condemned the repression of trade union activities during the Global Week of Action in Swaziland. The General Secretary of TUCOSWA was arrested and put under house arrest. In addition, the Commissioner of Labour did not allow TUCOSWA to hold the national Global Inquiry Panel, a workers’ hearing in the presence of international experts to be held on 6 September. Police threatened staff at the venue of the Global Inquiry Panel and followed trade unions officials. Some participants were questioned at the police station upon arrival in Manzini.
Earlier, in June, EI highlighted the attacks against its affiliate SNAT and TUCOSWA at the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards. EI also took part in the meetings of the “Friends of Swaziland and Zimbabwe” convened by the ITUC in April and October.
In June 2013, public workers launched a strike for a 4.5 per cent pay rise, well below the rate of inflation in Swaziland and a mere fraction of the 30 per cent pay rise that Swaziland’s parliamentarians have awarded themselves. The strikers were met by dismissals, riot police and armed forces’ intimidation and beatings, tear gas and rubber bullets. Peacefully protesting public sector trade union members were fired upon by police – resulting in hospitalisation and injuries. The government also fired hundreds of teachers across the country, including the entire executive of the SNAT, before the Industrial Court of Swaziland found that those dismissals were unlawful. EI, ITF and PSI launched an joint online campaign in partnership with LabourStart to condemn this governmental crackdown on Swazi teachers. The dismissed teachers have since been reinstated following a directive by the King.