Durban - More than 14 000 factory workers in KwaZulu-Natal could be out of work by the end of the week, when 450 clothing factories are shut down by the National Bargaining Council (NBC) for failing to comply with minimum wage laws.
Chairman of the United Clothing and Textile Association (Ucta), Ahmed Paruk, said mass imports from Bangladesh, China, Mauritius and Pakistan made it almost impossible for local factories to survive, let alone pay the prescribed wages.
“Almost 70 percent of clothing is imported from these countries. With the odd jobs that we get, we are barely covering wages,” he said. “It is almost impossible for us to pay what the NBC is asking.”
He said prescribed wages for factory workers in metro areas was R809 a week and R450 in non-metro areas.
“In Durban we are paying around R600 a week, while in non-metro areas the rate is between R200 and R400.”
Paruk said some major chain stores were getting jobs done in places like Lesotho, where workers were being paid R800 a month.
“The imports and cheap labour make it difficult for us to sustain work in this country,” he said.
“But, we are fighting this non-compliance issue.
“We have spoken to our workers and they are of the view that half a loaf is better than none.”
He said in 2010 they were instructed by the NBC to comply with the prescribed wages.
“At the time, we were given until April 2011 to be 70 percent compliant and 100 percent compliant by last year. But none of us could. It was an impossible situation.”
He said the council was bent on serving writs of execution on 450 clothing factories in KZN for non-compliance.
Paruk said they had been informed that the NBC intended closing down 237 factories in the Durban region, from Chatsworth to Phoenix.
Factories in Newcastle, Port Shepstone, Isithebe and Ladysmith were also expected to be affected.
“This is going to result in about 14 300 jobs being lost in the industry. We cannot understand why the (Department of) Labour minister has not intervened on this matter,” he said.
“It is also baffling why the labour minister has extended the clothing agreements for the past two years to non-parties when the bargaining council has a clear minority representation in the industry.”
They had broached this issue with the minister’s office and were waiting for a response.
“We will be challenging this in the Pietermaritzburg High Court this week. The clothing agreements should never have been extended.”
He said the closure of factories would cause irreparable damage to the clothing industry and would force retailers to increase imports.
“This will be a major economic blow to KwaZulu-Natal. It will aso signify a permanent end to an industry that goes back many decades.”
Paruk said due to the serious threat to the industry, Ucta had called for a series of urgent meetings throughout the province to address members.
“We are appealing to the labour minister to urgently intervene and save these jobs.”
Department of Labour spokesman, Musa Zondi, said the execution of writs against the factories for non-compliance was undertaken following a court order and after a lengthy process to seek compliance.
“The bargaining council has made attempts to assist non-compliant employers and the execution of the writs is now the final step.
“Bargaining council agreements become legally binding when extended by the minister and the department is not in a position to condone non-compliance by employers with labour legislation.”
Zondi said the minister urged Ucta to ensure that its members and employers complied with labour laws.