On September 19, the police arrested and beat up organizers from the Amalgamated Trade Unions of Swaziland (ATUSWA) – affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union – to stop them from protesting. Over 10,000 workers from five garment and textile factories began protesting two weeks ago after negotiations were deadlocked at the Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration Commission. They are frustrated by their employers’ refusal to honestly engage in collective bargaining to improve wages and working conditions.
The three-day protest action called by ATUSWA is taking place in Mbabane, Manzini and other places, and is happening in accordance with the country’s laws. According to the union, organizers Sbonelo Tsabedze and Nhlanhla Tsabedze were arrested at Nhlangano while mobilizing workers to assemble at the gates of Zheng Yong factory to push for their demands.
The ATUSWA leadership says the police confronted the well-organized workers who were protesting peacefully:
“The police resorted, without provocation, to disperse the workers using teargas and started going after union members and beating them up. We are receiving reports that a lot of our members are injured and running for dear lives as they are hounded by the police. Therefore, we call upon our members to remain united despite glaring attempts to disunite them. As this is a battle for workers, we call on government and the police to stop harassing and victimizing the workers for exercising their right to protest. We further make a call for the release of our organizers.”
Says Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa:
“To build industrial peace, it is important for authorities in eSwatini to respect the workers’ rights to protest. These rights are protected in the labour laws and in ILO Conventions. So, we strongly condemn the use of intimidation and violence against protesting workers and support ATUSWA in its struggle for better wages and working conditions.”