Trade unionists in Swaziland are reporting that a textile factory has sacked workers for wanting to join a union.
The Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA) said Taiwanese-owned company Far East Textiles in Matsapha also threatened to stop workers' pay and closed down a factory.
In a statement circulated on social media on Thursday (22 March 2018) ATUSWA said, 'Just for joining our organization and for showing interest to join ATUSWA the company unleashed terror to the workers by threatening not to pay their wages, closing down the factory and dismissing those suspected to have joined the union.'
It added the company tried to coerce workers to beat up union officials and organisers and when they would not it sent management to take photographs of all those seen interacting with the union.
ATUSWA has asked the Swazi Department of Labour to intervene.
Textile workers are among the most exploited in Swaziland, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. In 2015, Swaziland was named as one of the ten worst countries for working people in the world, in a report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
ATUSWA is campaigning for a minimum wage of at least E3,000 (about US$250) per month. At present, it is reported most textile workers earn between E1,300 and E1,500 per month. They are supported by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA).
In July 2014 a survey of the Swazi textile industry undertaken by TUCOSWA revealed workers were subjected to harsh and sometimes abusive conditions, many of the kingdom's labour laws were routinely violated by employers, and union activists were targeted by employers for punishment. More than 90 percent of workers surveyed reported being punished by management for making errors, not meeting quotas or missing shifts. More than 70 percent of survey respondents reported witnessing verbal and physical abuse in their workplace by supervisors.
In its report on human rights in Swaziland in 2013, the US State Department said wage arrears, particularly in the garment industry, were a problem. It said, 'workers complained that wages were low and that procedures for getting sick leave approved were cumbersome in some factories. The minimum monthly wage for a skilled employee in the industry - including sewing machinists and quality checkers - was E1,128 (US$113 at the time). Minimum wage laws did not apply to the informal sector, where many workers were employed.
'The garment sector also has a standard 48-hour workweek, but workers alleged that working overtime was compulsory because they had to meet unattainable daily and monthly production quotas.'
In September 2014 hundreds of workers at Tex Ray were affected by poisonous chemical fumes at the factory in Matsapha. Many needed hospital treatment and the factory was closed for several days.