Friday, March 07, 2008

Swazi Strikes

A bloody week of the worst labour strife in a decade has exposed cracks in the Swazi government's poverty-alleviation plan of creating thousands of low-paying jobs by promoting a textile industry.

In the strike action, which began on 3 March, workers participating in peaceful marches to demand better salaries have been teargassed and beaten by police . Local media reported that the Swaziland police carried out unprovoked attacks on peaceful marchers on the first day of the strike. Several injuries were reported after riot police shot teargas into a line of marchers . On 5 March, several marchers were beaten and teargassed after vandals sealed the lock on the gate of a textile factory with glue. Uncertain of the culprits' identities, the police randomly struck at marchers, some of whom had to be hospitalised.

Textiles have become a key player in Swaziland's otherwise moribund manufacturing sector, which saw many of its multinational companies relocate to South Africa when apartheid ended in 1994 . Swaziland's textile industry is dominated by garment-making factories owned by Taiwanese immigrants who came to Swaziland in 2000/02 to take advantage of preferential trade conditions with the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act . The country is one of the few that has diplomatic ties with Taiwan and does not recognise the People's Republic of China. Taiwan returned the favour by encouraging its garment-makers to invest in Swaziland.
In turn, the Swazi government has offered tax holidays to incoming firms, and constructed factory shells that are sometimes leased for free of charge to large employers.

Low wages and "cultural conflicts" bedevilled labour relations from the outset, but came to a head when a strike vote was approved by 30 percent of the nation's 16,000 Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers Union members . The union seeks to raise wages by 12 percent.

"My take-home pay is R300 (about US$38) a fortnight," said Cynthia Ndwandwe, a mother of five employed by an Asian-owned garment factory. "I can no longer afford to buy bread."

"Textile workers are forced to live on mediocre salaries," said Fakudze , president of SMAWU . "How can breadwinners be expected to provide for their families on just R600 ($77) a month?"

1 comment:

LucianoMende said...