May 16, 2011

Government coffers running dry / Police detain ten unionists

Swaziland's deepening financial crisis has already eroded public services, but those services may shut down entirely if the government fails to find money to pay its wage bill. Finance minister Majozi Sithole told a state-run radio station on 9 May that the government would struggle to pay public service salaries at the end of the month, and that no money would be available for June or beyond unless the World Bank and the African Development Bank grant the loans the government has requested. Civil servants and nurses' unions have already threatened to stop working if salaries are not paid on time.
The average Swazi wage earner supports 10 individuals, so 100,000 people - one-tenth of the population - would be directly affected if the country's 10,000 civil servants were not paid. If the largest group of wage earners stopped spending or investing, retailers could be left with unsold goods, and banks saddled with delinquent loans. Analysts said the knock-on effects to the economy could be far-reaching.

In January 2011 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made a number of recommendations aimed at staving off economic disaster in Swaziland. Chief among them was that the bloated public sector workforce be cut to a size more suited to a small country's needs. The government announced that it would cut 7,000 public service jobs during 2011, but so far has cut none. Even without the cuts, Swaziland's unemployment rate stands at 40 percent and more jobs have been lost since the beginning of the year as businesses that relied on government contracts have closed down.

In the meantime, it has got known that ten unionists were detained by police after they were found holding a meeting which the police declared illegal.The unionists were meeting in the Swaziland National Association of Teachers’ offices. The union officials were taken to the Lubombo Police Regional Headquarters, where they were kept for an hour before being released. The unionists were from SNAT, the Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL) and the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU).

Afterwards, SNAT Secretary General, Muzi Mhlanga, emphasised that labour unions did not need police permission to hold meetings. Police assistant Public Relations Officer, Steven Dlamini, however claims that the members did not seek permission to hold such a meeting, adding that some of the people present in the meeting were not union members. Mhlanga, however, said the meeting also incorporated other people who are being targeted to be unionised such as hawkers or street vendors and emphasized it was not a political meeting. “If they want us to ask for permission then they are contradicting themselves as we follow the Industrial Relations Act. By saying we need permission, they are sending us back to the Public Order Act of 1963,” said Mhlanga. He condemned the action of showing up with guns referring to it as ‘intimidation’. Vincent Dlamini, the Secretary General for the National Public Service Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU), said the issue of unionists being detained would be reported to the international community. “I will be attending an international labour conference and this is one of the issues we will report,” said Dlamini. He accused the police of intimidation and said it is such action that shows that there is no freedom of association in the country. “These intimidation tactics are similar to those being employed in Zimbabwe,” said Dlamini. (Times of Swaziland)

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