Swaziland Court Forces Teachers to Postpone Strike, Bans Public Servants' Action

The Swaziland Industrial Court has forced teachers to postpone a strike planned to start on Tuesday and banned outright one by public service workers.

The rulings came days after police violently attacked legal protests by workers.

The court case was deemed so important to the state where King Mswati III rules as absolute monarch that Swaziland's Attorney-General Sifiso Khumalo presented it himself. Government Press Secretary Percy Simelane was also in attendance.

On Sunday (23 September 2018) the Industrial Court heard two separate submissions; one from the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) and the other from the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU). Both unions are seeking pay increases, they have asked for 7.85 percent cost of living adjustments and the government which says it is broke has offered zero percent.

Judge Dumsani Mazibuko ruled that the three-day SNAT strike which was due to start on Tuesday (25 September 2018) was legal but should be postponed until 23 November 2018 until a new government was in place. Swaziland voters went to the polls on Friday and the kingdom (recently renamed Eswatini by King Mswati III) is waiting for him choose a new Prime Minister and government. Political parties are banned from taking part in the election and the choice of government rests with the King.

The judge said the NAPSAWU strike which was started last week and was due to continue could not go ahead because the union had not given sufficient notice under the kingdom's Industrial Relations Act. Previously, of the 3,635 civil servants who participated in a strike ballot, 3,593 voted in favour.

In the week before the court case trade unionists organised by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) staged three days of strikes and protests in Mbabane, Manzini, Nhlangano and Siteki.

On the first day they were met with violence. Videos and photographs of brutal police attacks were uploaded on social media throughout the day.

On the second day police turned the city of Manzini into a 'battlefield' and 'warzone' as they fired stun grenades, teargas, teasers and rubber bullets at protestors.

Police also attacked teachers at their union headquarters in Manzini and ordered them out of the premises before assaulting them, according to local media reports.

The Times of Swaziland reported, 'The protesting workers were stuck at SNAT Centre as the armed police surrounded the building and threw stun grenades, while firing tear gas canisters at anyone leaving the venue.'

In a separate incident on 24 August 2018 police fired gunshots at teachers, wounding one.

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