Education International (EI) sent a High-Level Mission to Eswatini to reiterate on-site the support of the education union community to colleagues in the country, and to urge the national governmental authorities to put an immediate halt to the persecution of Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) leaders, introduce democratic governance in the country and respect basic human and trade union rights.
The mission, led by EI General Secretary David Edwards, EI Vice-President Mugwena Maluleke, and the Director of the EI Africa Regional Office Dennis Sinyolo, and hosted by SNAT General Secretary Lot Vilakati, met with the Eswatini Education Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and the national trade union center to address the issue of the governmental harassment of the SNAT leadership.
Despite the fact that Eswatini has ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 87 – Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise – and 98 – Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining – the unions are not allowed to march in streets or protest, and that SNAT is being targeted by the government for basic union activity.
“It is a true honor to be with such a committed, brave, and vibrant organisation defending quality teaching and learning for the students and teachers of Eswatini in the face of repression, violence and threats. The world’s teachers stand with you!” Edwards told SNAT members during the mission in March.
He added that “we remain concerned for the safety and the security of teachers and the citizens, in the face of what we see as unnecessary repression. We worry about labour rights and about the casualisation of education. We also wanted to make sure that the SNAT president was treated fairly, reinstated, and remunerated.”
If the government of Eswatini does not address the issues, EI will go to the International Labour Organization, where it will be supporting the grievance process, Edwards also said. “We will also be discussing the situation with the UN, UNESCO, the Global Partnership for Education, and all other members of the teacher community. These international organisations expect that the teachers of any country are treated with fairness, see their rights respected, and teach their students, and their students can learn, without fear of intimidation and the necessary resources. The choice is right now with the government,” he insisted.
The mission was held after the EI Executive Board had reaffirmed during its March 2023’s meeting, via a Resolution on Eswatini, “EI’s unwavering solidarity and support for the SNAT, its leadership and members,” and requested the EI Secretariat to “organise a high-level mission to meet the authorities of Eswatini to restore dialogue and respect for international labour standards”.
Support from African colleagues
Meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, from March 21st-22nd, the EI Africa Regional Committee also adopted a Resolution on Eswatini acknowledging that it is “deeply concerned about the developments in the Kingdom of Eswatini where the Government continues to violate trade union rights, and deny the SNAT the right and autonomy to effectively engage with the Government on all matters pertaining to the welfare, training, and retention of teaching personnel”.
Deploring that “the Government of Eswatini has continued to harass the SNAT President for his role in the union and the persistent attempts by the Government to weaken SNAT by interfering with the check-off system and by refusing to increase dues or to register new unionised members,” it urges the Government of Eswatini to:
- Respect and protect the fundamental rights of workers and trade unionists, including the right to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and peaceful assembly, in line with International Labour Standards, to which Eswatini is a signatory, in particular, ILO Conventions 87 on freedom of association and Convention 98 on the right to organise and collective bargaining;
- Cease immediately all forms of harassment and intimidation against trade unionists and human rights defenders and instead engage in constructive continuous dialogue with SNAT;
- Uphold the check-off system and process the request to increase SNAT membership dues in a timely manner, and register all new unionised teachers as required by law; and
- Reinstate the salary and benefits of the President of SNAT, drop all charges laid against him for undertaking legitimate union duties, and ensure his safety.
Global Day of Action
On April 12th, EI will join other international trade union confederations and participate in the Global Day of Action in solidarity with trade unionists in Eswatini who are under siege from their government.
Trade unionists and human rights activists the world over will demand:
- An end to the culture of impunity.
- A stop to human and trade union rights violations.
- The government institutes a dialogue with all stakeholders concerned and an independent investigation into the murder of human rights defenders and trade unionists.
Watch EI General Secretary’s support message: