The Swaziland Agricultural & Plantation Workers’ Union (SAPWU) launched legal strike actions at Ubombo Sugar and Tambankulu Estates, controlled by the South Africa-based Illovo Sugar and Tongaat Hulett respectively. Illovo Sugar is ranked as the largest sugar company in Africa, with strong international corporate links; Tongaat is a major player in the South African Development Community (SADC) sugar scenario with operations in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Tongaat’s Tambankulu Estates employs over 1,300 workers, with some 995 union members. Workers demand a wage increase of 10 percent across the board, plus other benefits. The strike started on 12 June. Illovo’s Ubombo Sugar employs over 3,000 workers, with about 2,700 of them being union members. The strike began on 13 June.
Ubombo negotiations have stalled for a couple of months, which added to the frustration of the union and the workers. Last April, the union’s proposals were:
- Wages: an increase of 14 percent for workers in Band “A”, 13 percent for Band “B”, and 11 percent for Band “C”. ( “Grades” or “Bands” refer to the Paterson Job Grading system.)
- September 6th as a holiday, adding one more holiday
- Cane carrying bonus of SZL 30.00/day (USD 1.00 =SZL 10.7)
- Education allowance to SZL 3,500.00/family
- A 10 percent increase in Shift allowance
- A 35 percent in Holiday allowance
- SZL 1,000to 2,000 in Tool allowance
- Four days in casual leave
The company counter-offered with a 7.5 percent wage increase across the board, to exchange the holiday – not to add one – , and did not consider any move on the other proposals.
Once the Ubombo strike was launched, the company withdrew the school transportation service provided to the workers’ children, and sought an order by the Industrial Court to limit workers’ demonstrations to specific areas in the estate. While the latter was denied, with the Court ordering the parties to agree on the picketing rules, the former only meant a further aggravation to the workers because, as SAPWU general secretary, Archie Sayed, stated to the media, this is a service provided to employees, and the workers, albeit on strike, are still employees of the company.
Local media reported on 21 June that 430 hectares under cane in eleven farms at Ubombo Sugar plantations had been burnt, with an estimated loss of SZL 5 million. Illovo said that further losses are expected as the burnt cane remains in the fields. The company added that there already is an estimated loss of SZL 5 million related to the strike.
The workers and the union vehemently denied any involvement in the arson, which also affected lands owned by Tibiyo TakaNgwane, a multi-operations company controlled by the royal family. The arson prompted two government ministers, the Labour Commissioner and the National Police Commissioner to visit the area on 20 June, to meet with management and the union. After their visit, there was a brief meeting between the union and management that failed to move the case. SAPWU’s Archie Sayed said that management wanted the meeting to focus on the strike and the burnt cane, instead of the reasons for the strike.
Ubombo Sugar Limited (USL) is owned by Illovo Sugar Limited and the Tibiyo TakaNgwane on a 60-40 percent share. Tibiyo, which means “wealth of the nation,”is a owned by Swaziland’s royal family, with concerns in different areas: agriculture, finance, mining, tourism, printing and publishing and others. Tongaat’s Tambankulu Estates is Swaziland’s largest independent sugar estate, with 3,767 hectares in two estates located in north-eastern Swaziland. It supplies cane to the Simunye and Mhlume sugar mills, which are owned by the Royal Swaziland Sugar Co. The latter is owned by the Tibiyo TakaNgwane (53.1 percent) and the South African TSB Sugar (26.3%).
[important]The IUF has launched an urgent solidarity action with SAPWU and the Swazi sugar workers. We encourage our readers to participate in the campaign here: Striking Swaziland sugar workers need your support![/important]