The Swazi trade union movement is emerging as an important player in the campaign to promote democracy, good governance and the rule of law and has strengthened its capacity to lead civil society and engage with the Government on crucial issues affecting the Swazi people. The formation of the Trades Union Congress of Swaziland following a merger between the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) and Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL) on 1 May 2011 has paved the way for a united trade union front vis-à-vis the Government, employers and other stakeholders.
A training and education initiative funded by the TUC under the Partnership Programme Agreement (PPA) implemented in partnership with the International Research Academy for Labour and Education (IRALE) was instrumental in raising the profile of the trade union movement in Swaziland through capacity-building. The Project has the twin objective of enhancing the ability of the Swazi trade union movement to educate, organise and represent workers, especially, in the textile, commercial and retail sectors and of building the IRALE capacity to fulfil its role more effectively and efficiently. The initiative is part of the TUC's contribution to the efforts by trade unionists in Swaziland to promote the Decent Work Agenda and Democracy. Some 282 trade union officials from 26 trade unions have so far benefited from the TUC project.
The Commercial and Allied Workers Union of Swaziland (CAWUSWA) and the Swaziland Commercial and Allied Workers Union (SCAWU) in the commercial, retail, hospitality and warehousing sector and the Swaziland Manufacturing and Allied Workers Union (SMAWU) and the Swaziland Processing, Refinery and Allied Workers' Union (SPRAWU) in the manufacturing and textile sectors are the main partners in the Project launched in 2010.
A series of workshops held in the capital as well as in the regions were attended by trade union officials from affiliated unions of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions and Swaziland Federation of Labour. The participants received training in a number of areas of crucial importance to the trade union movement such as recruitment, organising, representation, labour law and enforcement mechanisms and finance administration and related skills. The production of education and training material for the use of the EN and trade unions was a key component of the Project. A leaflet on workers' rights (Know your rights) has been widely circulated to union members and is also available online.
The shop stewards' training programme has contributed significantly to the recruitment drive. Since the launch of the Project in the two sectors, there has been an increase in membership. Between February and April 2011, 74 workers from two workplaces (Shoprite and Swaziland Poultry Processing) joined unions. The participation of women workers in project activities has been on the increase, reaching 50% in some workshops. There is growing interest in, and enthusiasm about, trade union education and training as part of an effective strategy to raise awareness of workers' rights and to protect and promote them. The majority (70%) of the participants reported improvement in their understanding of issues relating to the representation of workers and in the knowledge of labour laws and related themes. In addition, shop stewards have reported a drop in the number of cases reported to unions, attribute it to their enhanced role in the representation of colleagues on the shop floor and claim to have gained confidence and experience in the resolution of disputes.
The Educators' Network, too, has benefited considerably from the Project, contributed to enhancing skills and knowledge of participants and strengthened links within the trade union movement and beyond.
Educators have agreed to support the creation and development of a strong shop-steward movement/network nationally, mandated with the task of sharing experiences and ideas on issues of building workers' awareness of their rights, recruitment and representation.
Despite the initial success, there is need for continuing the efforts to increase the membership of the EN as well as encourage the leadership in the unions to support its activities. Moreover, unions need to provide trained officials with opportunities to make use of the skills and knowledge gained through the Project.
The initiative is part of the TUC's contribution to the efforts by trade unionists in Swaziland to promote the Decent Work Agenda and Democracy. The IRALE has compiled a number of case studies on the participants. They focus on their experience, highlight the benefits and emphasize the importance of training and education. The following paragraphs look at the project from the beneficiaries' perspective.
The 43-year-old Europe Dlamini has been a member of the Swazi Manufacturing and Allied Workers' Union (SMAWU) for ten years now. 'My knowledge has improved a lot since I started attending these workshops. I am now able to easily convince workers to join the union because of the knowledge I got. I can now explain to the community as to what is a protest march and what it is for', says Europe who works at Swazi Poultry Processors. 'I have tried my best to educate union members about trade unionism. We will be soon forming one trade union for all the workers. I have recruited many non-unionised sections and almost the entire workforce is unionised now', adds Europe who attended a shop stewards training course under the Project.
Sabelo Sacolo, a 32-year-old labourer at Swazi Poultry, too, appreciates the training imparted to the participants. 'Before I attended this training I was not fully aware of the duties of a shop steward as stipulated in the Industrial Relations Act or of workers' rights.' 'Since I started to attend the training, I have gained more information on matters of labour laws as an organising tool in labour circles'. 'We have shared a lot of information and experience among ourselves as participants. Now I feel more confident and can represent workers at any disciplinary hearing', says Sabelo who has been a member of the same union for 5 years now.
Some shop stewards have had some training for the first time, thanks to the TUC Project. 'I must say it that I had never attended any training since I was elected as shop steward', confesses Nomvula Msibi, a member of the Swaziland Commercial and Allied Workers' Union (SCAWU) for the last 19 years. The participation in workshops has boosted their morale and built their confidence. 'I gained much from the IRALE training. It has actually empowered me to the extent that now I am no longer afraid of being a shop steward.' 'As now I know that I have to be strong and know my rights. I am now confident of being a shop steward since my knowledge and skills have improved. Thanks once again to all the facilitators', says the 46-year-old accounts clerk. The officials trained under the project have been instrumental in recruiting 74 new members so far. Nomvula claims to have recruited two members to his branch.
Equipping participants with the knowledge of labour laws and practices was a key element of the programme. Thandiwe Simelane, 50, explains the usefulness of the courses she attended. 'Before I attended IRALE workshops (Educator Network Programme) I did not understand labour laws in Swaziland. I was in the thematic areas group - labour law as an organising tool.' Thandiwe who works at the RFM Hospital has been a member of the union for ten yeaers now. Obed Asinamali Mbingo, 30, Treasurer of the Asidle Sonkhe Saving and Credit Co-operative, confirms her views. 'I am now fully aware of the workers' rights as enshrined in the labour law statutes and as a result I am able to convince other workers to join my union. As I speak now, I have convinced four people to join and they did.' 'I could not identify organisational rights, employee rights, shop steward rights, employer rights and other labour laws in the statutes of Swaziland. I must also admit that I never attended any training ever since I became a shop steward'. According to Obed, the recruitment drive has been a success. 'Since I was involved in the initiative, I was able to recruit a lot of members. To be precisely, since I received the training, I have organised the unorganised. 53 members have joined the union'.
Thulani Mngometulu is one of the unemployed who took part in training workshops. He is a member of the SPRAWU. Since the training he has joined a lunch hour study circle where he shares ideas with fellow shop stewards and intends to form a network beyond trade union level. The 28-year-oldThulani had previously worked for Beverage and Merchandising.
Musa Sifundza, who hails from the Lubombo region, has been a member of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) for 10 years and is currently a branch secretary of his union. Moreover, he has been a member of the Educators' Network since its inception. Musa is particularly grateful for the opportunity given to him to improve his knowledge of labour laws and structures for their enforcement. 'I have been able to represent one teacher in my branch and avoided a possible prosecution of this comrade', claims Musa who hopes that the Project will continue and 'give more training on the thematic areas such that the trainees are accredited as resource persons within unions and are qualified in those fields'.
Phumelele Dlamini, teacher at the Pre-Simon Primary School, is candid about her knowledge about unions prior to her involvement in the Project. 'I knew little about basic trade unionism before I attended the workshops organised by IRALE. They opened my mind as a trade unionist', admits Phumelele. The 43-year-old primary school teacher was instrumental in persuading union leaders to merge with other unions in the sector. 'Now, I feel more confident that I can educate other members of the union and my community as well, on basic human rights and workers' rights,' adds Phumelele.
Thembekile Mathunjwa is 26 years old and works at SMAWU as an administrator for SMAWU for four years. 'Before I attended IRALE workshops (Educator Network Programme), I thought a trade union is for labour issues only and you are not allowed to challenge the socio-economic and political issues. As I am speaking now, my level of knowledge has increased and I am fully aware of the workers' rights'.
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