19 May 2020

The workers of Eswatini, particularly workers employed in the Textile and Apparel Industry, as organized under the banner of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA) are dismayed by the shockingly uncaring stance displayed by his Majesty’s government towards them.

After the announcement by government to impose a partial lockdown, the Textile Industry Workers, as represented by ATUSWA started a discussion within the industry on how workers should be cushioned during the COVID-19 lockdown. ATUSWA proposals were widely accepted by employers and by government which was also served with same. This culminated to the adoption of the proposals, as they were made to form part of the government’s published the labour regulations to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

However after realizing that employers were finding it difficult to pay workers during the lockdown and the government was not willing to come to their rescue (workers and employers), the union staged a campaign which shifted the attention towards the Eswatini National Provident Fund (ENPF). The campaign included but not limited to engaging employers for support, by petitioning government and raising the issue directly to ENPF, asking same for financial assistance.

Despite government’s failure to appreciate the workers effort, we are pleased as a union that ENPF did not accept the government directive that workers should not be given their money which is their savings at the ENPF. The Provident Fund appreciated the fact that under all circumstances workers were not saying they wanted their savings in total but as the results of the lay-off they faced, they had no other source of income or means for living and their livelihood was negatively affected as they were unable to buy basic necessities like food, and henceforth they are at a brink of starving to death bearing in mind that those are among of the lowly or poorly paid wage earners in Eswatini.

We have information that on Tuesday the 12th of May after a merry go round, the ENPF governing body as supported by senior management of the fund took a decision to hear the voices of the workers, particularly the Textile workers who despite being employed live below poverty line. The ENPF decision as we understand it was to the effect that the fund would contribute E60 Million towards assisting workers in this crisis, which would mean that workers are given a fighting chance against the Corona virus because without such assistance the workers may survive COVID-19 but would not survive hunger.

We have been made to believe that others in the corridors of power are of the opinion that since some workers have returned to work, they no longer need the financial assistance. That suggestion is inhumane in many aspects and must be rejected with the utmost contempt it deserves. Even the few workers who are reporting for duty, they working seriously reduced hours and a large number of them are still at home not working after they were laid off. The consequences of low wages is that there is no room to reduce wages if and when there is a need. Workers are barely surviving and that is why some of the workers complement wages with money they get through prostitution and therefore to suggest that workers should live on E750 per month half pay which is an average for those workers who are back at work in the Textile Industry is inhumane and sadistic.

While government in engaged in bureaucratic processes and formulation of Regulations, workers will die and they will stripped of all human dignity, just because government want to follow due processes which are at a snail pace. The government should show great care and be empathetic more especially because the workers has found alternative means to address their challenges when in all fairness the responsibility to intervene in this crisis lied in the hands of the government; not ENPF or any pension or provident fund for that matter but all we see is a total disregard of the livelihood of the workers or Emaswati whose only crime is to be poor.

We call on government to immediately and without delay allow employers on behalf of their employees to start accessing the funds that have been made available by ENPF as means of bridging the gap between workers actual wages during the COVID-19 lockdown and what workers were earning before.

Issued by

ATUSWA Secretariat

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