TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

Swaziland: Parliamentary committee withdraws 'AGOA Bill' amid concerns over 'gaps'

Sunday, 13 April 2014 Published: | Welcome Dlamini

Source: Swaziland Observer

The all-important Industrial Relations (amendment) Bill of 2014, whose passing is crucial to the kingdom’s continued AGOA eligibility status, has been withdrawn from parliament – exactly 34 days before the May 15 deadline.

The main reason for withdrawing the Bill, the Sunday Observer has been informed, is that it does not meet the five benchmarks related to the continued eligibility to participate in the AGOA programme.

Manzini North MP Jan Sithole, who is chairperson of the portfolio committee on labour and social security, withdrew the Bill on Friday – a day after a three-woman delegation from the United States of America left the kingdom.

The delegation, led by Constance Hamilton – the Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa, arrived in the country on Monday to assess progress made by the government in implementing five benchmarks.

AGOA is a U.S. preferential trade programme that provides duty-free access to the U.S. market for products from eligible sub-Saharan African countries.

Labour unions estimate that, for Swaziland, the AGOA programme has led to the employment of around 20 000 people but government has put the figures at around 8 000.

Minister of Labour and Social Security Winnie Magagula and MP Sithole confirmed the Bill’s withdrawal.

The purpose of the Bill, which was tabled in parliament on February 14, 2014 by the minister, was to provide for the registration of federations and other incidental matters.

Provision

Having a provision in the Industrial Relations Act that allows for the registration of federations is one of the five benchmarks.

The other four are as follows: Full passage of the amendment to the Suppression of Terrorism Act; full passage of the amendment to the Public Order Act allowing for the full recognition of the freedom of assembly, speech and organisation; full passage of the amendments to Sections 40 and 97 of the Industrial Relations Act; and dissemination and implementation of the Code of Good Practice on Protest and Industrial Action.

Source

An impeccable source within government told this publication that the U.S. delegation, in its meeting with government representatives, made it clear that the Bill, in its current state, was not satisfactory.

“The Americans said the Bill did not address Sections 40 and 97, which put the liability on union leaders for any damage caused to public property during a protest action. The U.S delegation said as long as these sections were not amended, passing the Bill will be useless in as far as meeting the benchmarks is concerned,” said the source.

The delegation is reported to have maintained this stance even during its subsequent meetings with labour unions and the ministry of labour – with the latter meeting said to have dragged from morning until 9pm. “Government realised that the concerns raised by the American delegation was not without substance. It then met with the parliament portfolio committee and agreed that continuing to debate and pass the Bill as is would be futile and, therefore, the best thing was to withdraw it, related the source.

On Friday, MP Sithole, using Standing Order 68, moved to have the Bill withdrawn Bill and Manzini South MP Owen Nxumalo, who is also a member of the portfolio committee on labour, seconded him.

Speaker Themba Msibi then asked the minister what she had to say about the portfolio committee’s move and she confirmed the withdrawal stance.

Contacted yesterday, the minister said: “I confirm and agree with what the portfolio committee is saying.

As we speak, the Bill is now with the ministry and it will be submitted before Cabinet on Tuesday before it is taken back to the Labour Advisory Board.”

On the other hand, MP Sithole said: “It is true, the Bill has been withdrawn. It has been realised that the Bill has gaps in terms of the five benchmarks needed to retain AGOA and also meet ILO requirements. I would not have served any purpose for us to run quickly and pass the Bill yet it won’t help rescue AGOA. It is, therefore, important that the Bill be inclusive of all that is necessary to save AGOA.”

Patriotism, commitment needed – MP Jan 

Manzini North MP Jan Sithole believes that parliament has the capacity to meet the May 15 AGOA deadline and is prepared to spend sleepless nights doing in order to achieve this.

“As parliament, we have an obligation to protect and save the economy.

We have to use every power and time available.

We don’t have the luxury to rest.

We can meet around the clock and work 24/7 if it calls for us to do so,” Sithole said.

The MP, who is also leader of the Swaziland Democratic Party (SWADEPA), said there was no one in parliament who wanted to lose AGOA and, therefore, nobody amongst them will sleep until the deadline is met.

“This calls for commitment and patriotism. I have no doubt that we’re ready to make sure that the Bill is passed within time.

We hope the Executive will hurry so that we are able to retain AGOA and win more additional jobs than we have. No one would be that irresponsible and unpatriotic and lose us AGOA,” Sithole added.

Can tripartite rescue AGOA threat?

With the Labour Advisory Board currently in shambles following last week’s withdrawal by TUCOSWA, there are concerns how the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill will be refined.

The LAB is a tripartite forum made up of government, employer and employee representatives.

The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), which represents workers in the tripartite, withdrew from the forum citing various reasons but mostly that government was not honest in its dealings with the federation.

Minister of Labour and Social Security Winnie Magagula yesterday said government’s hands were tied because it couldn’t refine the Bill all by itself. “All is now at the mercy of the Labour Advisory Board to help us solve this problem. The ball is squarely in the Board’s court,” she said.

Magagula said as government, they would continue to play their role because they understood importance of addressing the concerns raised by the U.S. delegation.

She said it was important for TUCOSWA to return to the tripartite so that the issue was tackled as a collective.

 

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