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MANZINI - Employers, especially those in sectors believed to be low paying, are facing one of the toughest salary negotiations this year as workers want a total review of the wages.

This follows the Minister of Labour and Social Security, Phila Buthelezi’s pronouncement, that the wages councils of the various sectors have a mandate to increase the minimum wages in the industries, in such a way that an individual would be able to survive in the rapidly increasing cost of living. The minister said this after doing site visits to some of the sectors and learnt that after government, through the wages councils, had published gazettes for minimum wages, employers did not engage their employees on what they could add on top of the minimum wage. Instead, he said some employers stuck to the minimum wage, yet they were to negotiate with the workers, in terms of their affordability.


Basically, by setting the minimum wage, he said government was saying workers in the different sectors should not be paid less than that (gazetted minimum wage). The sectors that have started looking into the minimal wage include those in retail, security, manufacturing and textile industries, and they are represented by the Swaziland Commercial and Allied Workers Union (SCAWU), Swaziland Amalgamated Trade Union (SATU) and Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA), respectively. Some of the workers in these sectors have instructed their unions to move away from negotiating pay rise in percentages as they believed it was deceiving. They have given them a mandate to demand a fixed (in amount) minimum wage.

To start with, ATUSWA, which negotiates on behalf of about 22 000 workers in the textile industry and others in the manufacturing and processing industry, said their members demanded an increase that would see the least paid workers in the textile and apparel sector earning E3 232 per month. Currently, on average, textile workers are paid E2 400 per month (34.6 per cent) ATUSWA Secretary General Wonder Mkhonza confirmed the demand and said it ranged between E808 to E900 per week, which was between E3 232 and E3 600 per month, respectively. “The workers told us what they want and that we should stick to it, instead of negotiating using percentages because it (percentage) was deceiving,” Mkhonza said.

Again, he said they wanted the rate of Category I to be removed from the sector. This category covers trainees and ATUSWA’s argument is that this category was no longer relevant in the industry. Mkhonza said this category was only relevant in the early 2000s as emaSwati were still learning and mastering the textile sector work. He argued that now, emaSwati were well-versed about the work in this sector. Furthermore, he said they wanted the working hours to be reduced from 45 per week to 44. He said their target goal was to reduce it to 40 hours per week – over five days (Monday to Friday). He said they targeted to reduce it by an hour per year to allow the employer to adjust and plan properly. Currently, most textile workers work about 10 hours per day (from 7am to 5pm).

Once more, the unionist said they wanted overtime to be paid properly. He said they learnt with shock that if an employee worked overtime from Monday to Wednesday and then went to the clinic on Thursday, some employers took the overtime hours to fill the sick day-off, yet by law, they should pay sick notes. So, he said they wanted overtime hours to be paid together with sick notes.

Last year, textile workers were awarded 7.25 per cent salary adjustment and ATUSWA rejected it and even engaged the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to intervene. This was after the employers’ representative and government voted for the 7.25 per cent, but the trade union did not vote. It raised a concern that all the time when they reached a deadlock, government voted in favour of the employers.  Meanwhile, he said in the manufacturing and processing sector, their focus would be more on salaries this year because they achieved a lot in the previous financial year. For example, he said one of the big shifts they witnessed was regarding compassionate leave. He said before, it was not paid, but after last year’s negotiations, it was fully paid.

Again, he said maternity leave was increased from six weeks to eight weeks and holidays were properly paid. In terms of salaries, the least paid workers want E808 per week (E3 232 per month) and up to E950 per week (E3 800 per month). On the other hand, the retail industry workers are said to be paid between E850 and E1 800 per month. SCAWU Secretary General (SG) Phila Mthethwa said in the industry, some employers added E2 on top of the gazetted minimum wage and boast that they were paying workers more than the gazette.

He said during negotiations, the ‘big guns’ in the industry always pushed for the lowest salary adjustments and claimed that they were looking after the small businesses, especially new comers, so that they could cope. Thereafter, he alleged that after the publishing of the gazette, these retailers added a minimum of between E2 to E50 on top of the gazetted minimum wage.

Mthethwa said they had been engaging their members through a WhatsApp group and they wanted to be paid at least E3 000 per month, which is 100 per cent increment. On another note, security guards, who, according to the gazette, earn about E2 500 per month on average, want at least 15 per cent salary adjustment. SATU SG Frank Mncina, who said they were yet to present their position paper to the wages council, highlighted that their members’ ultimate goal was to earn at least E4 000 per month.

However, he said even though the E4 000 demand could be achieved, it could take long, thus they decided to table the demand of 15 per cent. He said the E4 000 per month salary could be achieved in the not so distant future. Again, he said in their position paper, they would also demand that hours of work should be reduced from 12 hours per day to eight. He said if the workers had to work 12 hours per day, the four hours should be overtime.