Clothing factories threaten shutdown

Employers in the clothing industry in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal have threatened a total shutdown tomorrow and Friday similar to the one held last year to show support to their colleagues whose factories were closed this week for not complying with the minimum wage requirements.

The shutdown of 90 factories will jeopardise about 8 000 jobs. Yesterday, the bargaining council closed two factories, Star Fair and Simunye Clothing, putting about 500 people out of work. There are four more factories to be closed this week. In total, all six factories employ about 2 000 people.

Ahmed Paruk, the chairman of the United Clothing and Textile Association (UCTA), which represents 300 non-compliant factories, said it was consulting with their lawyers for a long-term solution. “But in the meantime, (tomorrow) and Friday, there will be a total shut-down of all the factories… about 90 factories will close down for two days,” Paruk said.

“We are taking this matter very seriously as the UCTA and are saying let us talk and save these jobs but the bargaining council is adamant to close the factories down. I can’t understand that at a time when President Jacob Zuma and the ANC are talking about creating jobs, this is happening. We are very disappointed with the way this is conducted, at a crucial time before the elections, people are losing jobs,” Paruk said.

Alex Liu, the chairman of the Newcastle Chinese Chamber of Commerce, whose company Simunye was one of the two closed yesterday, said the group would meet with members to discuss a way forward before finalising whether they would go ahead with a total shutdown.

Liu said there were members who had hinted that they would want to shut down in solidarity with their colleagues.

The minimum wage is R336 a week and it will rise to R465 by the end of the year before topping R516 by next April.

Last year, the UCTA proposed that instead of a minimum wage, there should be an entry level wage of R220 a week paid to a general worker in rural areas and R300 in urban areas. A qualified machinist from a non-metro area would earn R280 a week while a metro-based counterpart would take home R450.

In terms of agreements at the bargaining council, the minimum weekly wage for a qualified machinist working in a city is R740 and in a town it is between R451 and R522.

Leon Deetlefs, the compliance manager of the bargaining council, said he was not in a position to comment on the factory closures.

Wayne van der Rheede, the deputy secretary-general of the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union, said the union had not been notified of plans to shut down all the factories tomorrow and on Friday.

Van der Rheede said the union would take action to protect its workers if the shut-down went ahead.

Last year, Sactwu took legal action against the employers following a voluntary shut-down by Chinese-owned factories, which was described as an “illegal lockout”. - Slindile Khanyile