Durban - Cosatu KwaZulu-Natal criticised employers in the clothing, leather and textile industry on Tuesday for threatening more than 14,000 job losses.

Employers could not threaten workers with job losses before negotiations had begun, provincial secretary Zet Luzipo said.

On Monday, it was reported that more than 14,000 factory workers in KwaZulu-Natal could be out of work by the end of the week, when 450 clothing factories would be shut down by the National Bargaining Council (NBC) for failing to comply with minimum wage laws.

United Clothing and Textile Association chairman Ahmed Paruk was quoted as saying mass imports from Bangladesh, China, Mauritius and Pakistan made it almost impossible for local factories to survive, let alone pay the prescribed wages.

Luzipo said wage negotiations between the textile industry and the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers' Union were expected to start in March.

He accused employers of pre-empting the outcome of the collective bargaining.

“Clearly, to them, the demand for a living wage is out of economic sabotage.

“We will rally behind the demand of those workers not just for a living (wage), but also for better working conditions,” he said.

Luzipo said the employers' tactic was to seek public sympathy and to create an environment that scared people.

He said the union had not been informed that the textile industry was suffering financially.

Luzipo said employers knew which process to follow if their companies were not making a profit.

The Labour Act allowed them to be exempt from paying the minimum wage if their company was struggling financially, he said.

“Employers are running away from full disclosure, which determines whether a company gets exempt or not,” he said.

Also, employers were making it seem as if the workers' demands were ridiculous, which was irresponsible, he said.

Luzipo said the textile industry was losing jobs because there was no comprehensive strategy applied to avoid the import of illegal or cheap goods into the country. - Sapa