Schools principals sell public service unions for 3 pieces of silver

PAS march

Schools principals sell public service unions for 3 pieces of silver

By Inhlase

As in the biblical story of Jesus Christ being sold for three pieces of silver by his disciple Judas Iscariot, the Eswatini Principals Association (EPA), by agreeing to 3% Cost of Living Adjustment offered by the government, has sold all public servants. This is because the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), negotiating particularly for the entire teaching fraternity, had rejected the 3% offer by the government.

While negotiations were on-going, the government went behind the rest of the public service unions to negotiate separately with the schools principals and managed to strike a deal by offering them the 3%, SNAT challenged the legitimacy of the principals’ association legality by demanding to undertake a verification process leading to the recognition agreement of the EPA.

The principals together with non-unionisable civil servants were recently paid the cost of living while the rest of the public servants are still negotiating for a reasonable offer. The salary adjustment is an agenda item.

In an unusual move, SNAT was supported by Portfolio Committee members of parliament during a debate of the ministry of public service’s quarterly report. MPs said that the move to exclude teachers and other unionised public servants from this agreement was divisive and called on the government to negotiate with the entire civil service.

“We are not shaken by the government’s act of awarding the principals 3% more-so because we know that the principals are novices, literally new and inexperienced in the arena of negotiations. We already know the government’s tactics that we must rush through the cost of living item on the agenda because the money is already there in the budget lest the government identifies other emergencies where to use it. That is an old strategy the government has been using,” said SNAT Secretary General Sikelela Dlamini. 

He added that the government used the same strategy in 2016 when it was time to implement the salary review exercise whereby the government pushed civil servants to take what it had on offer. This time around the principals have come under fire from the rest of the civil service who wonder how they could sign such an agreement at a time when there is a hike in the cost of fuel by E2.30 a litre, bread prices rose by 20.76% on July 12, 2022. 

To spite the Portfolio Committee decision, the government went ahead to implement the 3% cost of living adjustment to the principals and other non-unionisable civil servants. This has put to the fore the fact that there is no understanding between the legislative arm of government and the executive in government. 

SNAT is also of the view that school principals are inexperienced in handling salary negotiations with government hence the rush in accepting whatever government offers.

“There is a need for people who have experience and skills, who are determined, who know what they stand for and what they want, people who will be persistent, given that perseverance pays off under the circumstance. It is obvious that the signing for 3% by the principals was indeed an embarrassment because in the very same week of the signing, the government announced price hikes in commodities such as oil, days after that it was increases in bread prices,” added Dlamini.

EPA Secretary General Mduduzi Masilela said prior to the acquisition of the full recognition agreement, EPA had a provisional recognition agreement status with its employer. The full recognition agreement provides EPA to bargain on behalf of its members on the terms and conditions of service and other pertinent professional matters; cost of living adjustment, 3% and 1% once off annual salary, on behalf of its members.

Masilela added that principals had asked for a 6% cost of living adjustment for the 2022/2023 financial year, arguing that this proposed increment sounded good enough to cushion their members whose salaries had been eroded over the three year period, government however argued that it was broke and therefore could not afford their demand and the negotiations reverted back to the 3%.

“The membership instructed the leadership to accept the government’s offer on the strict condition of the 1% once off on annual salary. The conclusion to the cost of living adjustment negotiations has paved the way to engage the employer in other equally important matters,” said Masilela. 

On the other hand and around the same time the Swaziland Association of Schools Administrators (SASA), a union for schools principals and deputies affiliated to SNAT, argued at their meeting that inflation had corroded their salaries by 25.03% since 2017. 

Shortly after concluding talks with the principals government through Sipho Tsabedze’ the public service principal secretary, came live on Eswatini Broadcasting and Information Services radio station defending the legality of the principals association and that government had the exclusive right to negotiate with whomsoever that qualify in terms of the industrial relations laws of the land. 

He claimed that the principals’ association was not a union but rather an association of managers who had their own interest to advance and defend just like the public servants associations, [namely SNAT, National Agricultural and Public Service Workers Union (NAPSAWU) and the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU)]. He added that the principals had satisfied all requirements to be recognised at negotiations with the government, their employer. Tsabedze acknowledged receipt of the letter from SNAT regarding the request for a verification process. 

Masilela insisted that “EPA has a full recognition agreement with the government to represent principals and deputy principals in public primary and high schools in the kingdom of Eswatini affiliated to it.” 

The trade union movement in Eswatini is regarded as a political movement because of its role in advocating for pro-democracy and a multiparty electoral system. Political parties are banned in the kingdom despite that the country’s independence was gained through a multiparty political setting which ended on April 12, 1973 when the reigning King Sobhuza II banned all political parties and changed the government system to an autocracy, which persists to this day.

Government is not new to applying divide and rule tactics as was witnessed when it resisted to recognise the largest federation in the kingdom, the Trade Union Congress (TUCOSWA) when it was launched in 2012. TUCOSWA is a merger of the then two existing federations, the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) and the Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL). As reported by the international workers’ union publication IndustriAll on 7 March 2013, the government initially congratulated the federation on its formation, but quickly changed its mind when TUCOSWA took a resolution to call for free and fair elections in Swaziland including the unbanning of political parties. TUCOSWA was deregistered under instruction from the Swaziland Attorney General and its legitimacy challenged.

The court found that whilst there were provisions in law to register individual trade unions, the existing provision for registering a federation had been removed with the Industrial Relations Act of 2000. Thus it was difficult for the court to interpret if the exclusion was deliberate. The judge called on labour to wait for a proposed amendment bill that provides for the registration of a federation to be enacted. Initially the accusation from some government officials was that the new federation had political aspirations after the TUCOSWA congress decided to boycott upcoming national elections if political parties remained banned in Swaziland.

There has been building pressure for the registration of TUCOSWA. At the International Labour Conference (ILC) of the ILO in 2014, the Swaziland government brushed aside accusations of repression centred on the unresolved issue of TUCOSWA’s registration, in real terms constituting a ban on the labour federation. It was finally re-registered on 12 May 2015 after immense pressure.

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1 Comment

  • Swapa is out of order. Unity is key with other public sector unions.

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