Journalists at the Times of Swaziland, the country’s leading newspaper decided late Tuesday to indefinitely postpone their strike action which was supposed to take effect Wednesday. This would have been the first time in the 100 year-history of the paper that its employees had gone on strike.
The journalists called the strike because they say the company refused to pay their cost of living adjustment. They also alleged that the management of the newspaper had been treating them like slaves. But a court ruled late Tuesday that employees of Arnot Publishing, the printing company of the paper, were not eligible to strike.
Tembela Magagula is human resources manager of the Times of Swaziland. From the capital Mbabane, he told VOA the court simply made a distinction between the employees to companies.
“We have two companies here. We have African Echo trading as the Times of Swaziland. Reporters are employees. Also we have Arnot Publishing Company, which is a distinct and different altogether. Their reporters’ dispute they cited African Echo and not Arnot. Therefore we sought interim relief by way of urgent application to stop the Arnot people from striking. Therefore the court ordered that Arnot employees who are the printers should not go on strike. After that ruling, the union wrote to us to tell us that the strike has been suspended,” he said.
Magagula said the court decision was not a favor for the Times of Swaziland, and that the company did not threaten or intimidate the journalists about going on strike.
“We wrote to the Arnot employees telling them that should they go on strike, that strike will not be a legal one, which means they could be disciplined. We did not threaten them because this dispute does not offer a cent to them because the reporters’ dispute does not cover the Arnot Publishing Company employees,” Magagula said.
The journalists called the strike because they said the company refused to pay their cost of living adjustment. They also alleged that the management of the newspaper had been treating them like slaves. But Magagula said the door is still open for further negotiations with the journalists.
“We are waiting for them to come back to us and finish what we started. We were negotiating the recognition agreement and after that we can start negotiating because the agreement covers employer-employee relations, how the union should deal with the employer and how should we engage each other in negotiations. Now we haven’t signed anything with the union, especially rules of engagement. That’s what the employer wants to do. Let us agree on the rules,” Magagula said.
But the Media Workers Union of Swaziland said the management of the Times of Swaziland has been refusing to negotiate.
“They have refused to come to the table. That’s what the dispute is. Were they to say today they want to negotiate with the union, we are prepared, more than prepared to go to the negotiating table because the financial year for the 2007-2008 at the Times that is in July. So it means our members have already felt the pain,” said Njabulo Dlamini, secretary general of the Media Workers Union of Swaziland.
Dlamini said the journalists were surprised by the court’s ruling.
“To be fair, it was just too short a notice. This afternoon we were told to appear in court where there was an urgent application. So we were running around trying to get our attorneys. And by the time we got to court, we went there ourselves without our legal advisor. So that’s how we lost the case on technicality,” Dlamini said.