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US WORKERS WANT SD REMOVED FROM AGOA

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MBABANE – Workers in USA have called upon the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR), which is the Executive Office of President Barack Obama, to remove Swaziland from the lucrative apparel and textile markets valued at E670 million per year.


Swaziland may lose AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) benefits because the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) accuse the government of interfering with the rights of workers.
AGOA enables the country to export its goods to the US markets duty free - and at favourably high prices.


The AFL-CIO is the umbrella federation for US unions, with 57 unions representing more than 12 million members.
The kingdom is also being accused of failing to observe the right of association, the right to organise and bargain collectively, and the right to acceptable conditions of service.
“The AFL-CIO urges the African Growth and Opportunity Act Implementation Subcommittee to review Swaziland’s eligibility for benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).


“The Government of Swaziland has failed to establish or make progress towards establishing internationally recognised worker rights as required by 19 USC (United States Congress) & 3703 (a) (I) (F) and unless the Government makes firm commitments to improve its performance, the country should not be eligible for benefits under AGOA,” reads the letter dated October 25, 2013, addressed to the office of the US Trade Representative – the Executive Office of Obama.
“The Government of Swaziland restricts internationally recognised worker rights in both law and practice. The country has been operating under a state of emergency for the last 40 years,” reads the letter for the attention of the US Government.


It has been learnt that the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) wrote a letter to the USTR, dated October 25, 2013 requesting the Executive Office of President Barack Obama to delist Swaziland from beneficiaries because she violated workers’ rights and the right of freedom of association.
It can be said that President Obama, pressured by workers and civil society, terminated trade benefits for Guinea, Madagascar and Niger in 2009 for failing to make continual progress in meeting US requirements for the AGOA.
However, the trade benefits were restored in 2011 after President Obama had satisfied himself that there was continual democratic progress in these three African nations.


Meanwhile, the head of the USTR is a Cabinet member who serves as the president’s principal trade advisor, negotiator and spokesperson on trade issues. Michael Froman is the current trade representative, appointed in May 2013 by President Obama.
The Times SUNDAY reported in a fortnight ago that South Africa was considering pulling out of the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) which contributes over E7 billion to a national budget of E11.5 billion.  The textile and apparel industry employs 19 000 workers.


The AFL-CIO is the same federation that put pressure on the then President Bill Clinton administration in 1999 and 2000 to remove Swaziland from the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) until His Majesty the King led a delegation to the US to intervene.
It remains to be seen if the Department of Trade will forward the letter to President Barack Obama. The department of trade is a government ministry.  
It is said that US imports from Swaziland totalled E670 million (US$67 million in current foreign exchange) in 2012 while US exports to Swaziland totalled E400 million (US$40 million).


In total, the US said Swaziland was its trading partner with E1.7 billion (US$107 million in total (exports plus imports) goods trade during 2012.
In 2012, US exports to Swaziland included optic and medical instruments, electrical machinery, perfumery and cosmetics, machinery and special other, which are donated products valued at US$2 million (E20 million).


In the same year, Swaziland’s exports to USA included Knit Apparel at US$31 million (E310 million), Woven Apparel valued at US$29 million (E290 million), Preserved Food costing US$3 million (E30 million), Machinery at US$759 000 (E7 590 000) and Optic and Medical Instruments valued at US$562 000 (E5 620 000).
This is, therefore, the market workers in America say the country must forfeit.

‘JUDICIARY NOT INDEPENDENT’

MBABANE – The country’s judicial system does not operate independently; hence Swaziland must forfeit AGOA benefits.
AFLO-CLO, an American federation pushing for the withdrawal of Swaziland from AGOA beneficiaries, said Swazi workers had been denied access to the media outlets because they were controlled by the state.

In a letter penned by the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) for the attention of the US Government, the Industrial Court is accused of siding with Government in deregistering the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA).  Workers in America said the Government of Swaziland used registration as a pretext to restrict associational rights. In January 2012, it has been said that workers democratically formed the national labour federation and obtained recognition from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.


However, in April 2012, the AFL-CIO said, government deregistered TUCOSWA, just days after it had announced it would boycott the 2013 elections. It is said government claimed the provisions in the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) used to establish the federation only applied to organisations, not federations.  
“TUCOSWA appealed to the Industrial Court, which sided with the government’s interpretation of the law but determined there should be a dialogue to determine a means of registration. This was ignored, and currently there is still no recognised national labour entity in the country, despite petitions from all TUCOSWA affiliates demanding recognition,” reads the letter in our possession.
“The Government of Swaziland has instead refused to allow TUCOSWA to hold meetings or stage protests and targeted leaders with arbitrary arrest and detention.”

 




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