Thousands of textile jobs on the line as deal ends
Business Live - Jul 3rd 2012, 11:19
Between 10000 and 12000 clothing and textile workers could lose their jobs as employers and the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu) blame each other for a breakdown over wage agreements and the enforcement of previous agreements.
Last year, Sactwu signed an agreement with the Apparel Manufacturers of SA (Amsa) industry body with the ultimate aim of helping the industry, which has shed more than 20000 jobs over the past five years to its current level of 57000.
The government, particularly Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, hailed the agreement as an example of what could be done to arrest the country’s high unemployment levels.
The one-year substantive agreement, allowing for a 30% drop in wages for new entrants in the sector, expires in August.
Amsa has already written to Sactwu giving notice that the agreement will end, which means that workers employed on the 30% lower wage will have to automatically receive a wage increase from September 1.
Amsa executive director, Johann Baard, accuses Sactwu of dragging its heels in implementing the agreement as it has not prompted the National Textile Bargaining Council to issue the writs against non-Amsa companies that were paying wages below the agreed levels.
“Our 250 members are furious about this. The union has dragged its heels over the issue of the writs because they feel that if this is done then many of their members will lose their jobs at these non-compliant companies,” Mr Baard says.
He says the compliant companies are now trading at a disadvantage to their competitors and they don’t see the value of signing an agreement if it is not enforced properly.
“If this carries on my members will have to start laying off staff, as many as 12000,” he says.
Sactwu general secretary, Andre Kriel, lays the blame at Amsa’s door, however, saying the employers cancelled a bargaining council meeting in May where the issue of the writs should have been discussed.
“So far we have not received any update on the issue. We are firmly of the opinion that the writs should be issued but Amsa has not discussed the issue with us,” he says.
Mr Kriel says Amsa had also not come back to the union about dates for negotiating a new substantive agreement even though Sactwu has suggested six dates, the first being Monday, July 2.
He estimates there could be as many as 10,000 workers who could be affected should Amsa members decide to retrench.
Mr Kriel warns that the union will not agree to any cut in wages again and while strike action is neither a priority nor an objective of its negotiations with Amsa, it will be considered if negotiations do not happen soon.
Michael Bagraim, chairman of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says that the nonenforcement of the writs in the textile sector and the inability to agree to minimum wages show the bargaining council has become irrelevant.
“Unless the bargaining council’s agreements can be properly enforced, it is of no consequence. Maybe then the sector should find solutions such as in the hotel and restaurant sector, where the labour minister makes a determination on minimum wages,” he says.
Saleem Mouzer, acting director-general of the Department of Economic Development, said neither the department nor Patel would like to comment on the issue.
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