The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) is demanding better living conditions for public sector workers as the government prepares to celebrate King Mswati III’s 45th birthday Friday.
“If there was any kind of improvement in the economy of the country, which can result in birthday parties for those that are in authority to be held [then] the first entry point will be increase in the salaries of workers,” said Nduduzi Gina, first deputy secretary general of TUCOSWA.
The government has declared Friday a national public holiday to celebrate the king’s birthday.
Gina questioned the rationale behind the celebrations since the government recently announced there would be no salary increases for public sector workers for the next three years.
Gina called on the government to agree to workers’ demands for better conditions, contending that the administration plans to spend millions of dollars during the celebrations. The government has yet to meet with the union to begin salary negotiations.
“Because we are still to enter into collective negotiations, we are hopeful we would be awarded the percentage that we would table in the joint negotiation forum with the government, because we have seen then that, yes, it would appear the economy of the country has improved,” said Gina.
The government says the country has yet to recover from the global economic downturn, which officials say makes it difficult to meet workers’ demands.
Gina disagreed, saying extravagant nationwide celebrations for the king’s birthday are an indication that the economy has improved.
“For us it is adequate evidence that clearly there is an improvement in the economy of the country, and hence the engines of the economy are the workers and they must be accordingly awarded,” said Gina.
Meanwhile, members of the Swaziland Youth Congress (Swayoco) plan to hold demonstrations in the capital, Mbabane to protest the birthday celebrations.
Officials have denied social media reports that the government has received 32 luxury BMW automobiles as a birthday gift to the king.
King Mswati III came under criticism after the media reported that he received a private jet, worth an estimated $46 million, for his birthday last year. He explained the plane was a gift from an unnamed admirer.
Some analysts have criticized what they say is King Mswati’s concentration of power. They say it is so great -- despite the 2006 reintroduction of a constitution -- that the country can be considered an absolute monarchy.