Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides that workers, except for those in essential services, have the right to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law places restrictions on these rights. The law provides for the registration of unions and federations but grants far-reaching powers to the labor commissioner with respect to determining eligibility for registration. Unions must represent at least 50 percent of employees in a workplace to be automatically recognized.
The constitution and law provide for the right to organize and bargain collectively, subject to various legal restrictions. The law gives employers discretion as to whether to recognize a labor organization as a collective employee representative if less than 50 percent of the employees are members of the organization. If an employer agrees to recognize the organization as the workers’ representative, the law grants the employer the ability to set conditions for such recognition. The law provides for the registration of collective agreements by the Industrial Court. The court is empowered to refuse registration if an agreement conflicts with the law, provides terms and conditions of employment less favorable to employees than those provided by any law, discriminates against any person, or requires membership or nonmembership in an organization as a condition for employment. The Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration Commission presides over dispute resolution. The commissioner of labor has the power to “intervene” in labor disputes before they are reported to the commission if there is reason to believe a dispute could have serious consequences for the employers, workers, or the economy if not resolved promptly.
Employees not engaged in “essential services” have the right to undertake peaceful protest actions to “promote or defend socioeconomic interests” of workers. The law defines “socioeconomic interest” as including “solutions to economic and social policy questions and problems that are of direct concern to the workers but shall not include matters of a purely political nature.” The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Extensive provisions allow workers to seek redress for alleged wrongful dismissal.
Although the law permits strikes, the right to strike is strictly regulated, and the administrative requirements to register a legal strike made striking difficult. Strikes and lockouts are prohibited in essential services, and the minister’s power to modify the list of these essential services provides for broad prohibition of strikes in nonessential sectors, including postal services, telephone, telegraph, radio, and teaching. The procedure for announcing a protest action requires advance notice of at least seven days. The law details the steps to be followed when disputes arise and provides penalties for employers who conduct unauthorized lockouts. When disputes arose with civil servant unions, the government often intervened to reduce the chances of a protest action, which may not be called legally until all avenues of negotiation are exhausted and a secret ballot of union members conducted. When civil servant unions tried to strike in January, the government filed suit based on the unions’ failure to abide by certain technical requirements. The litigation took several months to work its way through the court system. The court ultimately ruled in favor of the unions, which proceeded with their strike action in September.
In September and October, approximately 3,000 public-sector employees engaged in legal strike actions. The government honored their right to strike but informed employees it would apply the “no work, no pay” rule. The Eswatini Electricity Company suspended 17 workers (including some union leaders), although with pay, after they participated in an illegal five-day strike action in March.
The government has legal restrictions on labor brokers, but these were inconsistently enforced.