Swaziland: 'Slave Labour' at Textile Factory

Working conditions at a Swaziland textile factory are 'worse than slavery', the kingdom's Labour Minister Lutfo Dlamini said.

And, Dlamini told the company Kang Fa, headquartered in Taiwan, he would report it to the Taiwan Embassy If it continued to disregard of Swaziland's labour laws.

Dlamini told Kang Fa Managing Director, Chang Iming, 'What you are doing here is worse than slavery. You are running the factory using your own labour laws. I will report you to the Taiwan Embassy because you are misrepresenting Taiwanese investors in the country.'

Local newspaper Times of Swaziland said Dlamini was on a 'courtesy visit' to the factory when he made his remarks.

The Times reported a workers' representative saying, 'Sometimes we are informed at 3pm that salaries, which were due an hour later, would be paid at a later date.

'Also, when you go on leave you are either replaced or made to reapply when you return to work.'

Dlamini said, 'When this factory was constructed, we "lied" to the King that Swazis would be employed thus reducing poverty, but what is happening here is not employment.'

The minister gave the director an ultimatum to either improve working conditions or have its operating licence revoked.

There have been numerous problems in Taiwanese textile factories in Swaziland.

There are about 25 Taiwanese-owned factories operating in Swaziland, mostly textile and garment manufacturers, employing about 15,000 people, many at close to slave wages.

There have been numerous strikes by workers trying to get decent wages, but the pay is so poor that many women workers are paid wages so low they are unable to feed themselves properly and have to resort to prostitution.

Wages in textile factories in Swaziland are so low that companies in South Africa have threatened to move their factories to the kingdom to avoid paying the minimum wage in that country.

It is believed that many workers in textile factories at present in Swaziland do not receive even the kingdom's minimum wage that varies between E420 (US$57) a month for an unskilled worker and E600 (US $81) a month for a skilled worker.

A report in 2010 stated that employees in Matsanjeni typically earned E160 a month and were forced to turn to prostitution to survive.

Some women textile workers reported they earned E5.50 per hour (about 85 US cents) and had to live six to a room and three to a bed to get by. They tried to share food as the cheapest meal for one person costs E10 and a piece of fruit costs E1.

But, wages in Swaziland were still too high, according to Mason Ma, director and vice president of Tex Ray, a large Taiwanese textile business with factories in Swaziland. He told reporters in 2010 that recent increases had pushed 'wage levels higher than in some Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia'.

In March 2012, the Swaziland High Court supported textile company Zheng Yong when it refused to pay its workers paid leave, after it claimed it could not afford to do so.

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