Swaziland: 16 000 textile workers vote to strike

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Sifuna Zonke
Joined: 7-05-07
Mar 6 2008 07:10
Swaziland: 16 000 textile workers vote to strike

by Fanyana Mabuza, Weekend Obeserver (Mbabane), March 1, 2008.

Almost 16 000 workers in the country's textile sector will embark on a massive strike, come Monday. This comes after the completion of a ballot exercise, conducted by the Commission for Mediation and Arbitration Commission CMAC in almost all the textile companies in the countries. The workers, who are affiliates of the Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers (SMAWU), 17 000 in total, voted an overwhelming 93 percent for the strike, while six percent were against it and one percent abstained.

There are at least 17 000 workers employed in textile firms in Matsapha and Nhlangano. This then means that 93 percent translates to 15 810 workers who are for the strike.

The results of the balloting exercise were released by CMAC yesterday and communicated to the stakeholders.

The balloting exercise came about after negotiations over a salary increase between SMAWU and the Swaziland Textile Employers Association STEA, stalled last month.

According to the SMAWU leadership, the balloting exercise was the last step towards solving the impasse after a certificate of an unresolved dispute was issued by CMAC late last month.

The balloting exercise began last Monday and was completed on Wednesday, with the results being released yesterday, after the vote counting exercise. SMAWU Secretary General Alex Fakudze, when called for comment yesterday expressed his excitement over the results, saying it was a victory for the workers, who have suffered for a long time under slave labour and getting slave wages.

Last Wednesday, the Textile Exporters, through a spokesperson slammed the Union, for what it termed 'irresponsible demands'. They also appealed for rationality, saying they were also going through a difficult and lean period in the industry with markets fluctuating.

But Fakudze was adamant that the ballot result was not the workers will, but a reflection of the horrid conditions and salaries the workers were labouring under.

"It is all systems go for the strike. We have to tie a few loose ends like informing the police and asking for their cooperation over this matter. The 48 hours we have given to STEA, the Labour Commissioner, and CMAC will have passed by Monday and we will begin our industrial action which will no doubt bring the industry into a standstill.But if they can call us back to the table, we will agree, but only before Monday."

Fakudze stated that the textile workers had gone for a long time without wage increases, despite their meagre salaries. "The last time the workers got a pay adjustment was in 2005, which was 4.7percent and way below the inflation rate. We are demanding 12 percent this time around, and we are not budging. In reality, even if we can demand 70 percent, it would not make much difference, when looking at the paltry salaries the workers are currently getting."

Fakudze closed by stating that the workers were long informed of the pending strike, and they will be informed through the media, that Monday, that the strike begins.

"Logistics were long taken care of. The workers have only been waiting for the ballot result. In fact, as we speak, they know what to do come Monday”.

Yesterday, the Minister of Enterprise and Employment was expected to make an announcement over the strike action. First a press conference he had called at his offices floundered for unknown reasons, and later he instructed journalists to accompany him to the national radio where he would issue the statement.

But new developments over the issue arose and he had to attend to them, thus scrapping off even the radio announcement. He is expected to make a full statement today.

Joined: 15-04-06
Mar 22 2008 16:48

40 textile workers hospitalised
By Fanyana Mabuza

In a gesture of solidarity with the textile workers who got caught up in the crossfire with police during their recent strike, the four public sector unions have forked out a sum of E4 000, to be used in the purchase of medical supplies for the injured workers.
Latest figures showed that 40 textile workers were hospitalised during skirmishes with the police at the height of the industrial action, while 11 were seriously injured such that they have not even returned to work.

Making the presentation at the SNAT Centre in Manzini, SNAT President Simon Makhanya expressed his disappointment at the police who opted to silence the strikers with the nozzle of the gun, while they were engaged in a legal strike.

Makhanya was in the presence of officials from the other public sector unions officials, namely the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), Swaziland National Association of Government Accounting Professionals (SNAGAP), the Swaziland National Association of Civil Servants (SNACS) and the Swaziland Nurses Union, (SNA).

They all slammed the recent police's heavy handedness when dealing with strikers.

"It is making us wary and jittery. We will also be going to the table to negotiate on behalf of our members soon. Does this mean that if we fail to agree and our members opt to engage in industrial action we will also be given the same medicine the textile strikers were forced to taste?"

This, they added, was because they would be demanding a much higher percentage from government than what the textile workers had been demanding, and would it be a guarantee that they will have their heads bashed by the police in the name of enforcing law and order if they strike?

"Coming to think of it, we collectively lead over 30 000 people. Now if such a huge number could agree on industrial action after failure of the talks with government, then the police would have their work cut out for them. It then means they should prepare for a tiring time ahead."

Makhanya continued that violence begot more violence and the police's latest strategy of using guns indiscriminately was against the lore of nation building. "The textile strikers were simply demanding a living wage, which was within their rights as the cost of living in the country is extra-ordinarily high. It should be noted that commodity prices are on a permanent rise in the country. Petrol, bread and bus fares are always hiking up, yet the textile workers are expected to survive on the pittance they get at the factories. When they demand better salaries police are deployed to bash them up. Is this a ploy to silence the masses? If it is, sadly for them, it will never work," they all vowed. They then extended their sympathies to those who got injured and hoped the money they were offering would go a long way in easing the pains of those who were brutalised by their fellow countrymen, as they crusaded for their rights. "But most of all, we are still astounded at the sudden passion police have developed for using their guns, and it is very dangerous and will not promote national unity and nation building," they warned.