MATSAPHA: Life is literally a struggle for over 35000 textile workers within this densely populated Matsapha industrial town, they are forced to report to work with no protective clothing in the midst of the CoronaVirus outbreak.
It has been disclosed that as world leaders adopt self-isolation of citizens being an alternative measure to mitigate the spread of the virus, for these textile workers who are paid about $93.00(about E1,400) a month, it’s a matter of choosing between sustaining their low paying jobs or facing death.
An independent investigation by this Swaziland News suggests that despite the partial lockdown imposed by eSwatini government, some textile companies that include Fashion International, JS Clothing, Matsapha Knitwear and Juris Manufactures continue to operate with health experts warning that the country might soon witness more deaths as the virus continues to spread.
Reached for comments, Bheki Mamba, the President of the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU) said the staggering by government to implement strict measures and control the spread of the virus particularly in the textile industry might soon manifests into a disaster for the whole country as more people will die.
“Matsapha is densely populated and should the virus strike there, it will spread like wild-fire and we won’t be able to manage it thereafter judging from our limitation in terms of budget and our weak health-care system” said the SWADNU President.
An investigation by this publication suggests that the Chinese investors, a majority of them from Taiwan, allegedly demanded that government tabled a compensation offer for loss of revenue before they can consider halting their operations.
“Some of these Chinese investors refused to stop operating after it transpired that government is broke and cannot afford to compensate them like in South Africa where a multi-billion Coronavirus Mitigation Fund was established to compensate companies for loss of revenue. Now, they are putting the whole country at risk because once the virus spread within the textile industry, it would be a disaster” said the source.
But Wander Mkhonza, the Secretary General of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA) said as representatives of the workers, they noted with great concern that some textile workers are being neglected by government despite that they report to work in large numbers with their working conditions making it practically impossible to maintain the one meter square distance.
“We suspect that the government chose to ignore this reality because the Industry is infested with the Taiwan holly cows” said the ATUSWA Secretary General.
Reached for comments, Mbongwa Dlamini, the President of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) wondered why government allowed some of the textile workers whose companies are on the partial lockdown to go home and socialize with their families without being screened or quarantined.
“We are not undermining these textile workers but the nature of their job places them at risk as they work with Chinese from high risk countries. Our problem is that we have a government that take decisions based on what is happening in South Africa. They are not pro-active because if they were, these workers would have been quarantined and screened before they are allowed to socialize with other citizens back home in the rural areas” he said
Responding to questions from this publication on the subject matter,Thulani Mkhaliphi, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security said government was busy discussing issues surrounding the textile industry in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak.
“I am from a meeting to discuss some of the issues related to what you are talking about. Please talk to my Sector Committee Chairperson Mr Andrew LeRoux” said the Principal Secretary.
Reached for comments, Andrew LeRoux said the Working Group for the Business Commerce and Labour Sub-Committee of the National Disaster Task Force would be making submissions very soon on the matter.
“The Labour Advisory Board met twice this week and they agreed upon submissions between Labour, Business and Government, this will form the basis of this report” he said.
But it is not clear when the decision that seeks to protect the textile workers from the health risk that comes with the Coronavirus will be taken as government seems reluctant to fully implement the national shutdown amid fears of its negative economic impact.