Nhlangano – In a union on union battle that seems to be fueled by inconsistency in the manner in which the management of Montigny is treating its workers; ATUSWA the largest union in the industrial and manufacturing sector in the country is at loggerheads with its rival SEIWU.
The Labour Relations Act, the Constitution of the country guarantees the right of workers to join the union of their choice. In this new battle for the heart and soul of the workers, SEIWU wants to change that, effectively rendering freedom of association a fallacy.
The Swaziland Economic Improvement Workers Union (SEIWU) has filed an urgent application in the Industrial Court of Eswatini seeking an order interdicting and restraining the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA) from unlawfully and unfairly recruiting members of SEIWU employed by Montigny Investment. It is worth noting that Montigny is the same company that has taken ATUSWA to court seeking an almost similar order.
In her Founding Affidavit Phendulile Zikalala, who is the Secretary-General of SEIWU seem to have been offended by the phrase “Inyonyane yemcashi” which appears on the pamphlets that were allegedly distributed by ATUSWA at Montigny on the 27th of May 2019. SEIWU attached a copy of the said pamphlet in its application and it is worth noting that though the pamphlet have a logo that is believed to be that of ATUSWA, there is nowhere in the pamphlets where SEIWU is mentioned.
Further Miss Zikalala allege that workers “are now confused and angry with something which might cause violent confrontations leading to deaths. The Respondent is trying to attack the centre of power for the Respondent and this does not accept by the employees”. In addition, the SG of SEIWU is of the opinion that once workers join a union, their right to freedom of Association has been exercised and the same workers cannot be organized by another union.
The matter appeared today in front of judge Dlamini who refused to grant an interim order as prayed for by SEIWU. Appearing for the parties was ………… and Derrick Dlamini, representing SEIWU and ATUSWA respectively.
A random interview with a number of workers at the plant confirmed the standoff and raised concerns that they feel the company does not like the power that ATUSWA has.
One worker * Jabulani Khumalo* (real name withheld) said
“The problem with this company is that they violate our rights. ATUSWA as opposed to SEIWU is fighting for us. The company does not like that. We don’t want this SEIWU, yinyoka yemcashi le..they drink tea with management. Bayasitsengisa vele. How do you explain that the Industrial Relations Manager at the company is the president of a union? How can a company manger also be a leader of a union? Who does he represent? The workers or the company. Nawe sewungatibonelake.”
Another worker who said was a member of SEIWU said
“I don’t see why there is this fight. We are divided into this company when we should be united and working together against the employer. Of course, the unions have different approaches but the important thing is that they represent us. Loku labakwentako nje kusibuyisela emuva. Abangasigodli asitijoyinele inyonyane lesiyitsandzako. Manje basuke benta ngatsi they own us.“
The COO of FESWATU Mr Sonke Dlamini referred all quires to the General Secretary and President of SEIWU.
Contacted by EDN, Mr Mashumi Shongwe, President of SEIWU confirmed they have served ATUSWA with papers. He raised concerns that what ATUSWA is doing is raising unfair competition on the shop floor. He cited that this is not bringing peace going forward because workers will start fighting. SEIWU is already organized and workers there have never mentioned dissatisfaction with their union. He accused ATUSWA organisers of distributing pamphlets and shouting slogans that are degrading to their union. And that ATUSWA is using a recruiting style that forces workers to divorce SEIWU yet there are many factories where workers are not organized. Why target SEIWU members?
“I can’t come to your home and tell your wife that you are not good for her if she chooses me I will treat her better. That is inciting violence. All we are doing is defending our membership against ATUSWA. We are not violating their right to choose. We are already organized here. ATUSWA must go organize somewhere else. “said the President
When asked on whether their application is not violating the freedom of association as guaranteed in the Constitution Shongwe said
“the spirit of the clause and that of the ILO conventions does not say in the cause of exercising your right you must create instability..”
When contacted by Eswatini News (EDN), Wonder Mkhonza who is the Secretary-General of ATUSWA confirmed having been served with the SEIWU’s urgent application. “We have been served with court papers by SEIWU and we are certainly going to oppose the application in order to defend the right to Freedom of Association,” said Mkhonza. When quizzed on why they were defending the application, the Secretary-General indicated that he would not want to comment further as the matter was pending in court but he mentioned that he believed justice would prevail on the matter. The Secretary-General, however, confirmed that ATUSWA is organizing workers employed by Montigny and that they have attained a simple majority. He further said that a simple majority is not enough to apply for recognition. “We normally apply for recognition once we have attained 70 percent membership at a workplace, this is to ensure that our mandate is not in question,” said Mkhonza.
The Freedom of Association is a universally recognize right which is also recognized by the constitution of the Kingdom of Eswatini and part ix of the Industrial Relations Act No. 1 of 2000.
The critical and most relevant question now is: what is so special about Montigny that both unions want it so bad to be the majority in that company. Both union claim to have majority representation.
Are the allegations made by workers in that company that some managers favoured SEIWU? And if that is correct WHY? Why SEIWU is challenging the right of workers to choose their union? And why is Montigny choosing one union over the other?
Attempts to get the comments of the General Secretary of TUCOSWA Mr Mduduzi Gina were also unsuccessful. EDN wanted to establish what causes of action workers will take should this application by SEIWU be successful, especially after the historic ILO conference attended by His Majesty King Mswati a few weeks back, at which he made commitments to social dialogue.
EDN will continue to report on the matter as it unfolds because it poses a challenge to the constitutionally protected right to freedom of association and ILO conventions on collective bargaining and association.
While the unions fight, the employer is happy and the ordinary worker at the coal face of production will suffer.