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Several hundred members of the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) marched to Parliament yesterday to demand that the poultry sector be protected from cheap Brazilian chicken imports.
Meanwhile, the head of the SA Poultry Association said thousands of jobs could be lost in the next five to seven months if the government did not assist poultry producers.
Kevin Lovell, the chief executive of the association, said it was “grateful that Fawu are pushing this issue”, adding that unions and the industry were working together to solve the issue of cheap imports.
He said 3 000 jobs had already been lost in the poultry sector in the past three years.
In front of Parliament, Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola delivered a memorandum to a representative of Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, urging the government to clamp down on what the union termed “unfair competition and economic dumping” of whole and chicken portions by Brazil.
Masemola said Brazil’s cheap chicken exports were starting to squeeze the life out of the 40 000 workers employed in the poultry sector.
According to the poultry association, portions of frozen bone-in chicken portions, most of which came from Brazil, increased from 56 000 tons in 2008 to 163 000 tons last year.
Last year, South Africa also imported more than 30 000 tons of broiler offal and 132 000 tons of “frozen mechanically deboned broiler meat”.
Fawu’s memorandum said it was “unacceptable” for Brazil or its poultry industry to supply white portions of breast chicken to the US at premium prices and then dump the brown portions – wings, drumsticks and thighs – into the South African market at a price below the cost of production.
The union’s protest comes a week after Davies said he would be willing to raise tariffs on cheap chicken imports if there was a “consistent message coming from the players in the local poultry sector”.
Masemola said the protest would show the government that poultry workers were united in “speaking with one voice” for higher tariffs. It was up to industry players to show they supported higher tariffs.
The union said it hoped the march would “assist Fawu in getting the government and cabinet to see the threat that imports are posing”.
Masemola said the government should consider raising general tariffs and increasing anti-dumping duties on imported chicken.
Protester Brenda Meyer, who has been employed for the past nine years at Tydstroom Poultry, said she and her co-workers had joined the march as they feared losing their jobs if cheap imports continued.
She added that, in the past three years, many workers in the industry had been put on contract work, as full-time job opportunities had decreased.
But DA spokesman on trade and industry Wilmot James said yesterday that his party would meet Davies to persuade him not to impose “damaging tariffs” on chicken imports, as the poor would suffer most.
James said around a third of chicken imports arrived in paste form from Brazil and were then made locally into “protein-rich foods” such as polony and sausages.
James said that as South Africa didn’t produce this paste, raising tariffs would simply increase the prices of these foodstuffs.
The Trade and Industry Department had not replied to queries in time for publication. Jan Cronje - Political Bureau