MBABANE: Eswatini Government has on numerous occasions sided with employers to turn workers into cheap labour by paying them peanuts through the manipulation of the Wages Councils, being bodies tasked with setting of minimum wages for the various industries and or encouraging collective bargaining.
Eswatini, a tiny Kingdom situated in Southern Africa and ruled by multi-billionaire King Mswati has about 70% of the population living below the poverty line, some workers in the various industries earn less than $100.00(E1500.00) per month.
Workers who are exploited by employers and turned into cheap labour through Government Gazettes that systematically favour employers include security guards, domestic and textile workers and community health workers(Bagcugcuteli) who were directly paid by Government a mere $25.00(E350.00) per-month for almost 30-years, the Ministry of Health later terminated their contracts without paying benefits claiming they were volunteers.
Reached for comments, Wander Mkhonza, the Secretary General of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland(ATUSWA) who doubles as a member of the Wages Council for the Manufacturing and Processing confirmed that Government normally sided with employers during negotiations to ensure that workers were paid low wages, Mkhonza also serves as a member of the Textile and Aparell Wages Council.
“It’s true that Government sides with employers during negotiations in the Wages Councils to make sure workers are paid low wages, they normally tell the investors that Eswatini has cheap labour and peace, they call the forced silence, peace. So when we negotiate for better wages with the employers, they become arrogant and offer low wages and increments knowing that Government is on their side and once we disagree on the offer, the procedure suggests that we must vote. For example, if the employers offer 2% and we disagree with that, then workers, employers and the Government representatives in the Wages Council are expected to vote, Government always vote that employers should pay workers low salaries”,said the ATUSWA Secretary General.
It has been disclosed that by systematically suppressing the workers, Government usually played politics, saying "these are minimum wages", employers can pay their employees more than the wages stipulated in the Government Gazettes.
But a trade unionist very close to the matter told this Swaziland News that the sentiments that normally come from government justifying the low minimum wages by saying "employers can pay more" remains a political statement meant to pool the wool in the eyes of the workers.
"It's a political statement meant to pool the wool in the eyes of the workers for Government to push for low wages in the Wages Councils and then went on to say " these are minimum wages, employers can pay more" because these investors expect cheap labour from Government as part of the conditions to invest in Eswatini. It is for these reasons Government unleashes police officers to assault all workers in the country who engage in strikes for better wages because they must make sure they give the investors the cheap labour as promised" said the insider.
But apart from using political power to frustrate workers in the private sector, Government allegedly introduced a system to slowly turn even civil servants into cheap labour by refusing to award reasonable Cost of Living Adjustments(COLA) and or better salaries in the midst of the ever escalating costs of living thus throwing them into poverty.
These workers include among others, members of the security forces, teachers and health workers some who were subsequently forced to supplement their costs of living by approaching money-lenders.
A questionnaire was sent to Government Spokesperson Sabelo Dlamini, however, he had not responded at the time of compiling this report.
Reached for comments, Oscar Nkambule, the President of the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union(NAPSAWU) said Government suppresses workers in the private sector so that the State can also deprive civil servants reasonable salaries.
“As we speak, Government has introduced a Performance Management System(PMS) and we have approached the courts to stop this because we believe workers should be provided with working equipment and better salaries before their performance could be monitored, Government is failing to do that” said the NAPSAWU President.
Textile workers(pic: BBC)