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MBABANE – Does government feel relieved? Year after year government appeared before the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to respond to allegations of workers’ rights violations.

This year, Makhosi Vilakati, the Minister of Labour and Social Security, should breathe a sigh of relief as the governing body of the ILO deferred the upcoming session of the annual conference – originally scheduled for May 25 to June 5 in Geneva – due to the spread of COVID-19.

The 109th session of the conference  will now take place in June 2021.
Since the era of Jan Sithole, Eswatini has been in and out of the bad books of ILO. In 2014, former US President Barack Obama relied on ILO’s report on the country to withdraw it (Eswatini) from African Opportunity Act (AGOA) eligibility.

demonstrated progress

The US government found that Eswatini had not demonstrated progress on the protection of internationally recognised worker rights. 

In particular, the country had failed to make continual progress in protecting freedom of association and the right to organise.  Of particular concern was the kingdom’s use of security forces and arbitrary arrests to stifle peaceful demonstrations, and the lack of legal recognition for labour and employer federations.

Is government off the hook now that the ILO conference will take place next June? The burning issue that was to be discussed this year is the suspension of Mbongwa Dlamini, the President of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) from work.

doing nothing

He is on full pay suspension, which he recently said he was enjoying as he was paid his monthly salary for doing nothing. The suspension also gave him enough time to do SNAT work, he said.

In September 2019, ILO sought updates on Dlamini’s fate from the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) and Government of Eswatini.

Another issue reported to ILO is the alleged assault of workers by the Royal Eswatini Police Service. It was alleged that the Secretary General of the Manzini Branch of the National Public Services and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) Dumsani Nkuna was shot with live rounds of ammunition at the back, just close to the spinal cord. He was admitted to RFM Hospital in Manzini.


These are allegations whose veracity is yet to be tested when government officials appear before ILO on this matter.
In an interview, Mduduzi Gina, the Secretary General of TUCOSWA, said government should not consider itself off the hook.

He said the federation had been advised by the ILO Committee on the Freedom of Association that the issues they reported to them have been referred to the Committee on the Application of Ratified Conventions and Recommendations for deliberation in September 2020. He said the same issues would be considered in the 2021 ILO Conference.

This committee works closely with the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, which constitutes the cornerstone of the ILO’s supervisory system on international labour standards.

Makhosi Vilakati, the Minister of Labour and Social Security, said the deference of the ILO conference would give government ample time to work on the issues raised and further consult extensively with social partners. The minister said it did not mean, however, that government was not doing anything to address labour issues as there was a lot of work that his ministry had done.

travel restrictions

Meanwhile, the governing body of ILO stated that it took its decision to defer this year’s ILO conference in the light of severe worldwide travel restrictions due to the pandemic, and the need to ensure the health and well-being of delegates and staff. 
As a consequence of this decision, the associated 338th and 339th sessions of the ILO governing body, scheduled for May 25 and June 6 2020 respectively, will also not take place.

Despite the deferral of the Conference, the ILO and all its offices around the world were operational and were expected to continue to work closely with its constituents, development partners and the multilateral system.

The organisation is directing significant efforts towards addressing policy and technical responses to the pandemic, for the immediate and long term.

The International Labour Conference meets once a year in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss key world of work issues, craft and adopt international labour standards and monitor their implementation. It brings together government, worker and employer representatives of the ILO’s 187 member States.

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