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Last week I was requested to present a paper that sought to answer the question, ‘Does Swaziland Industrial Relations framework support or hinder the economic growth?’ This was during a very important information and knowledge sharing exercise on practical issues that affect how labour market issues can impact on the economic growth or downturn in the country.

I should make it clear that I am not representing Parliament or their views in my submission but I am doing so in my capacity as a long serving practitioner and stakeholder on workplace issues and a consultant. I, however, allowed myself to be asked about the role of Parliament in industrial relations reform.
I stated that for me to respond properly and to make the audience understand, I had to go into the history of industrial relations in the country to justify my answer, and my answer is a big ‘Yes!’ The Swaziland Industrial Relations framework does support economic growth.

A little background: Before the Industrial Relations and Employment Act, 1980, the then existing systems engineered by government and employers were not incongruent to the international labour standards and these frequently caused conflicts between the employers and government.

After the big 1963 national strike which coincided with the national demand for independence by the people of Swaziland from the British control on the one hand and the demand for one pound a day minimum wage by the workers, this common cause strike caused government to frown on workers and devised a new mode of workplace relations control unilaterally without consulting or contacting affected stakeholders.

This intervention was the unilateral imposition of the ‘Ndabazabantus’ at the workplaces to serve as industrial relations managers/officers without being trained in the field and without the consent of the employer yet the employer was demanded to remunerate the Ndabazabantus at the same rate as highest official in the factory including benefits.
Fortunately, employees were also not happy with the Ndabazabantus and for the first time workers and employers agreed on one thing, they collectively saw Ndabazabantus as intruders to the workplace and agreed to take steps to inform the authorities about the challenges faced at the workplace.

This exercise was resolved by natural attrition and withdrawal of some. But this was just a short-term victory for workers as employers replaced ‘Ndabazabantus’ with former police officers who  were also not trained in industrial relations but were good at taking orders from their superiors,  something that resulted in  workers being the most negatively affected by  the paradigm shift.

It must be remembered that there were very few trained human resource managers and industrial relations officers. During the time when both the Ndabazabantu and police officers were taking over personnel duties, workers became the victims of oppression, appalling working conditions and pittance wages.


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