BHUNYA: Life is literally a struggle for workers here at Montigny Investments, a politically connected company owned by Finance Minister Neal Rijikernberg and King Mswati through Tibiyo TakaNgwane.
The struggle for survival forces some of them to travel from as far as Zondwako, cross the crocodile infested Usuthu River through a wired cable but at the end of the month the employer pays them ‘peanuts’ while others are sitting hopelessly at home with nothing to eat after the company refused to pay them their benefits including injury on duty compensation.
Elizabeth Ndzimandze, an old poor woman who was injured while on duty at Montigny in Bhunya told this Swaziland News that for almost ten years now, the company has been refusing to pay the workmen compensation amounting to E78,000.00 as per the ruling of the Department of Labour.
“I was injured on duty and my fingers were completely cut, the department of Labour ruled that I should be compensated E78,000.00. Documents and agreements were signed but the company's superiors are refusing to pay me, life is difficult as I’m surviving on handouts”,said the former Montigny Investments employee.
Reached for comments, Neal Rijikernberg, the Finance Minister who happens to be a Director at Montigny Investments did not deny the matter but referred questions to the company’s management saying he was no longer actively involved in the operations of the company after he joined politics.
“Please speak to Montigny. I am not involved there anymore”, said the Finance Minister.
Efforts to reach Sihle Mavuso, the Spokesperson of Montigny Investments proved unsuccessful at the time of compiling this report.
Reached for comments by this publication, Mthunzi Shabangu, Labour Commissioner described the case of Elizabeth Ndzimandze as unusual, he advised the victim to visit his offices so the matter could be addressed.
“It is surprising why she was not paid for all these years because once all parties sign the agreeement, the payment should be processed by the insurance under the workmen\'s compensation. She must come to our offices so we can deliberate on the matter, if an agreement was signed, then she must get paid” said the Labour Commissioner.
An independent investigation by this Swaziland News uncovered that apart from the refusal by the employer to pay employees their descent salaries and their benefits including workmans compensation, some employees at Montigny risk their lives to cross the crocodile invested Usuthu River to and from their work place only to be ‘underpaid’ by the employer and be denied their right to join a trade union.
Insiders within the company alleged that their employer forced them to join Swaziland Economic Improvement Workers Union(SEIWU), a trade union that is accused by the workers of being in ‘bed’ with the company.
Efforts to reach Mashumi Dlamini, the SEIWU President proved unsuccessful at the time of compiling this report. But a statement published in the union’s website and attributed to its President Mashumi Dlamini suggests that the union is against any strike and protest actions as it contributes to the collapse of the economy.
“Having a union with SEIWU’s vision is crucial for sustainable economic growth. Strike actions, protests and aggression are, unfortunately, all too common in the Southern African region harming the economic health of both investors and workers” said the SEIWU President.
But an insider within the company told this Swaziland News that they are desperately seeking help in the midst of the injustice they are subjected to within the company.
“We are not allowed to join ATUSWA, the employer wants all of us to be represented by a union called, eish, I have forgotten its name, oh it’s SEIWU, they want all our grievances to be handled by SEIWU”, said the Montigny employee whose name cannot be revealed for ethical reasons.
An independent research conducted by this publication suggests that SEIWU was established with the support of powerful capitalists including Finance Minister Neal Rijikernberg, the then Montigny Director whose company banned employees from joining a union of their choice saying all their cases will be handled by SEIWU, the first union in the country to openly discourage employees from exercising their right to protest and engage in strike action.
Wander Mkhonza, the Secretary General of the Amalgamated Trade Union Congress of Swaziland(ATUSWA) said they have tried in vain to help the Montigny employees but the employer always fights by hiring even Advocates from South Africa to prevent them from being recognised as the representatives of the workers.
“Employees are suffering in that company, they are even beaten with impunity and no one within the Labour department is willing to help because the company is powerful and politically connected. We are trying to fight for them until they are allowed to be represented by us because the employer wants a union that will suppress the employees instead of assisting them. The money used in hiring the advocates should be paying the workers including the E78,000.00 for the woman who was injured on duty, but the employer chooses to pay Advocates just to fight the workers” said the ATUSWA Secretary General.
Montingy Investment at Bhunya