Cape Town - Amid wildcat strikes, wage talk deadlocks and violent protests, a local businessman has tightened his belt on personal expenses to help struggling employees with 50 and 80-percent wage increases.
And his efforts have paid off, with an increase in productivity and happier staff.
Vic Warrington, who runs the outdoor furniture factory Bench and Patio World, has been in the business for 23 years. The family business started in a garage and today comprises a store in Paarden Island and another in Joburg.
“We are not really wealthy,” he said. “But I drive a decent car, we live comfortably and we have no debt in our business. But we do run a cash business and sometimes we struggle to pay wages, but we are trying to live properly,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Warrington had an “eye-opening experience” when workers at one factory went on strike.
“I’ve seen what has been happening in the mining and farming industry in the Cape and then I suddenly had a wildcat strike at my little factory in Joburg,” he said.
To prevent similar wage disputes in the furniture industry, Warrington sat down with staff to find out where the problem lay. He looked at how much staffers were earning, what their expenses were and what they took home.
“I thought, I can’t live my lifestyle and here are guys earning above 30 percent of the minimum wage, but in debt, with loan sharks on their backs and clothing loans.”
Warrington has since affected changes to his business. On the advice of his employees, he has decided not to hire any new casual staff for the season. “They said they are going to put shoulders to the wheel, and they’ve really upped their game.”
He said most employees were given a 50 percent increase while some were given an 80 percent wage increase.
“Some guys have been with me for a long time, but I also listened to their commitments,” he said.
“The happier they are, the more productive they are and I have seen that.”
Charles Chiuriri, a machinist at the factory, used to earn R850 a week and now earns R1 500 a week. Chiuriri said he had to send money home to his family in Zimbabwe. “
If you’re not expecting something and it comes as a surprise, you put in more effort.”
He said that the furniture bargaining council and the trade unions were to blame for low wage increases.
Warrington called into the Kieno Kammies show on 567CapeTalk on Wednesday to speak of how happy his workers were after the increases.