Open Letter to Sipho Tsabedze


An Open Letter to Sipho Tsabedze (Commissioner of Labour)

Mr. Commissioner

“continue to conduct investigations into interference and intimidation of trade unionists during legitimate and peaceful trade union activities and hold those responsible for violations accountable;” ILC 2016 Conclusions

As all countries of the world were preparing to go to the International Labour Organization Annual Conference in 2016, your office was busy registering organizations, to avoid backlash at the ILC. The one organization your office wanted to frustrate after having been forced to register TUCOSWA just before the 2015 ILC, was the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA) which had made an application for registration almost three years before its actual registration on the 09 May 2016, in total violation of the timelines set out in Section 27 of the Industrial Relations Act 2000, as amended which remain the ONLY legal framework for registering a trade union in Swaziland.

ATUSWA registration came after a protracted struggle which was fought at many levels including at the 2015 International Labour Conference which in its conclusions said “register the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA) without any further delay;”. The statement was further emphasized by the high-level mission which visited Swaziland in February 2016. The registration of ATUSWA had dragged because your office had been shifting goal posts and refusing to adhere to the dictates of the law; choosing to shift blame to others on allegations that you are following strict instructions that you should not register ATUSWA. We refuse to buy to your story of being controlled by people who are in shadows because the Act put the responsibility to register or not to register trade union organizations squarely on your shoulders. If you choose to allow people who do not have authority on registration of trade unions to control you and making your office unable to fulfill its responsibility, you should not blame anyone but yourself because you chose your masters over the law.

Sir, we are sure you recall, as you have recently spoken about this issue to a group of individuals who labeled themselves as SMAWU officials, a union that is defunct after having amalgamated with others to form ATUSWA. When the certificate of registration was handed to ATUSWA you threatened to write all employers informing them that ATUSWA was not a product of an amalgamation despite the FACT that the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) through a letter written on the 10th of September 2013 informed your office of the Amalgamation of unions to form ATUSWA. The letter informing your office was served even before our union could make a formal application for registration to your office in terms of Section 27 of the Industrial Relations Act 2000, as amended. Had it not been for the intervention of your legal advisor then, Mr. Mduduzi Hlophe who politely advised you that if you were to implement your threat your actions would be considered as interference, you would have implemented your plan regardless of the FACT that Section 41 of the Industrial Relations Act 2000, as amended give your office NO role to play before and during amalgamation. Your office’s duty is to register the new constituted organization which may happen before or after amalgamation and to remove the names of the unions that amalgamated after a request to remove them have been filed with your office.

Despite that we have informed you that MQAWUS, SMAWU and SPRAWU amalgamated to form ATUSWA, your office continues to coerce individuals by inviting them to meetings where plans are hatched to divide the workers who are now organized under the banner of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland. Names of individuals who lead our organization are discussed in your meetings to formulate a particular opinion without affording our organization the right to defend itself. What is more appalling, is that ATUSWA organizational information which is shared with your office in confidence is shared with individuals who had declared themselves as representatives of other organizations. We are sure that if ATUSWA were to come looking for information of other organizations, you would refuse to divulge the information and therefore the question is why are you ready to discuss ATUSWA with anyone?

You are aware Commissioner how hard you have made the life of ATUSWA difficult. You have invited yourself on matters of consolidation and when direct questions were posed to your office by the employers, TUCOSWA or ATUSWA you either refused to address those questions and attend planned meetings or send junior officers who failed to adequately address the issues for fear of opposing your views.

We sometimes even ask ourselves in awe how we have managed to survive this onslaught. If surviving was a struggle, then growing is a testimony that God is on our side.

It is bothering us Commissioner that each time some delinquents try to rock the boat within the union, your Ministry is fingered as one of those that are sponsoring the attempts to divide ATUSWA. We know the names of the delinquents you met with your officers on the 21st of April 2017 and we wish to inform you, if you didn’t know, that only 1 out of the 5 individuals you and your officials welcomed is a member of a union in Swaziland, the rest are not even employees.

We must remind you Commissioner; with respect, that Section 41 of the Industrial Relations Act 2000, as amended which deals with amalgamation does not involve your office and if you impose yourself, as you do, its amount to interference on legitimate trade union activities much against the ILO recommendation as it was concluding the International Labour Conference in 2016. Unions have a right to self administrate and to take decisions that seek to improve the welfare of its members.

Maybe Commissioner you feel that the over stretching discretional powers you enjoy in Section 27 of the Act which have costed workers their jobs through the loss of AGOA should be extended to cover Section 41 as well. Even if someone were to nurse the hope that those powers should encroach to issues of amalgamation, the fact remains; at the moment they aren’t.

We have always maintained that our union would communicate decisions regarding the defunct trade unions once consolidation has been completed and we have kept our promise through a letter that was sent and received by your office.

We have said this in previous communications and we think that it is important that we say it again. If there is any party that is aggrieved by the Amalgamation of unions to form ATUSWA, that party must approach the Court for relief and if your office is an interested party in the amalgamation and it is aggrieved, it should also approach the Court because you do not have overriding powers YET to take decisions on behalf of workers.

We hope this letter will be taken with the spirit that it was authored. We are doing all this because we fear that things will come to a boil as some of our members are aggrieved by the action of some of our members, former leaders and some unemployed individuals who claim to be fully supported by your office. We are of the view that it is not advisable for your office to be at the center of setting up workers against workers. Employees who expect to get wage increase would not accept derailment of negotiations because non-issues are profiled to a level where those with ulterior motives can see an opportunity to manipulate the situation.

We wish to confirm that what we did is above board and anyone who have a different view, we advise, must approach the court.
Yours faithfully

Wander Mkhonza
Secretary General


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