Eswatini: International trade union cooperation and solidarity to support educators

published 10 January 2022 updated 17 June 2024

International trade union cooperation was at the heart of recent activities by the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT). It has successfully engaged with the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) and the Trade Union of Education in Finland (OAJ). This cooperation will allow the Swaziland/Eswatini education union to strengthen its structure and demonstrate the full support of educators at global level. It comes at a time when the union is being confronted with threats to human and trade union rights.

Engagement with South African colleagues

In 2021, 9 December marked a new era for SNAT and SADTU. “This historic day saw the adoption of a development cooperation programme between the two unions,” said SNAT General Secretary Sikilela Dlamini.

This cooperation arose from a commitment by SADTU to strengthen its international work, particularly in terms of socio-political issues in neighbouring countries, including Eswatini. This commitment was copper-fastened in a national resolution passed by the SADTU Congress.

The SADTU branch in the neighbouring province of KwaZul-Natal (KZN) was tasked with strengthening unions in Eswatini. It entered into bilateral cooperation with SNAT, through a programme set in motion in August 2021, after a brainstorming session between the SNAT National Executive Committee and SADTU.

Objectives of partnership

The main objectives of the partnership are to:

  • Build the capacity of members of both organisations, so that they can be better protected against all forms of injustices in the workplace.
  • Strengthen the organisations’ operational and leadership systems, so that they become ‘organisations of choice’ for all educators in their respective countries.
  • Bring about and/or improve the international focus of both organisations.
  • Raise awareness among their members on working class philosophy.
  • Deepen their members’ understanding of political issues in their immediate environment, help them to reclaim their role addressing political questions, and enable them to make concrete contributions regarding such issues.

Guidelines for cooperation

The 9 December SADTU-SNAT bilateral engagement also outlined resolutions which will serve as guidelines for the cooperation:

  • Structuring and implementing a clear leadership and membership development programme, with deliberate provision for capacity building.
  • Showing the unions’ commitment to significant international partnerships.
  • Protecting the dignity of the two organisations through various mediums and presenting a proper image on various public platforms, whilst advancing professionalism that is borne out of class consciousness.
  • Mobilising resources to ensure broad understanding of the political, economic, and organisational context, sustaining the pursuits of the unions and reaching out to all members.
  • Adopting a political programme that deepens the ideology of the SNAT as a teachers' organisation, even as it is confronted by political challenges.
  • Conducting a deliberate situational analysis to inform worker demands at collective bargaining tables, ensuring free and fair processes through active participation that has also defined modalities for redress.

Time to counter union bashing

SNAT General Secretary Dlamini commented that “such a partnership could not have come at a better time than this, since there is a dire need for SNAT to establish and strengthen international solidarity. The behaviour of the Eswatini Government is clearly anti-union, and it is such initiatives that make it possible for unions such as ours to counter trade union bashing by the employer”.

He added that “this partnership will enable the SNAT leadership to adequately guide the membership into a political education programme that will support educators in better understanding the current political climate in the country, so that they can better participate in national political debates and processes as they join in the national call for the attainment of a multiparty constitutional democracy in this country”.

SADTU: Struggle against oppressive and abusive employers

SADTU KZN Secretary Nomarashiya Caluza said: “This partnership, based on solid foundations of international solidarity, provides SNAT and SADTU with a platform to share their experiences and good practices on how to best and successfully lead the struggle against oppressive and abusive employers. The struggles of workers and the mandate of trade unions is the same, and the current complicated political situation in Eswatini resembles the situation SADTU was in pre-1994 [and Nelson Mandela’s presidential inauguration]. The democratic breakthrough and the support the SADTU received from international bodies strengthened us.”

The two unions have agreed that “recognising the significance of international solidarity will help us define the nature of the class revolution that we have to pursue through popular collaboration as workers”, Caluza concluded.

Solidarity from Finnish educators

SNAT is also strongly supported by the Finnish education union, OAJ, that has condemned the violation of fundamental workers’ rights in Eswatini.

In 2020, OAJ and the Finnish trade union solidarity centre, SASK, began their cooperation project with SNAT. “We launched the project with a strong belief that the partnership will contribute to building a better future for teachers in Swaziland,” noted OAJ’s Organisation Manager, Jenni Arnkil.

SNAT members “have faced a very difficult situation” in the union and in Eswatini in general, given the way the COVID-19 “pandemic has changed our everyday life, teaching, and the status of the teachers in many ways around the globe”, she added. “We have had to face the restrictions at many levels and areas of life in the name of the pandemic – and, in some cases, the restrictions seem to have come to stay.”

Addressing SNAT members, Arnkil insisted that “the crisis you have faced concerning the struggle for democracy, trade union and human rights is something that we have been following with growing concern and we wish to express our solidarity to you, teachers of Swaziland”.

ILO and UN principles of democracy and human rights

She highlighted that Education International and its Executive Board were shocked to learn that force had been used against peaceful protesters, who had been seeking better - or at least decent - working conditions for teachers and other public sector workers. OAJ has also strongly condemned this violence.

As Eswatini is a member of International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations (UN), it has committed itself to the ILO's and UN's principles of democracy and human rights, she emphasised. The acknowledges four categories of rights, i.e., freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, the abolition of child labour, and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, Arnkil explained.

She also mentioned the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “something that the UN member states should be true to every day”. Article 23 of this Declaration includes significant principles concerning work:

  • Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment.
  • Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring, for himself and his family, an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

OAJ: You are not alone

“In this regard, we are concerned about the situation in Eswatini, and we hope that you have the strength and courage to continue peaceful protests and demands for these principles to come true,” she added. “We condemn all the use of force against peaceful protests and teachers, and we hope that a brighter future is just around the corner for Eswatini’s teachers and children. We encourage you, the teachers of Eswatini, to continue to stand strong and peacefully protest to enhance democracy and human rights and for a better future for the children and workers of Eswatini. Thank you for that. You are not alone,” she concluded.

You can read the SNAT magazine, The Eagle, reporting on these global development cooperation programmes here