Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant. File picture: Leon Nicholas

Factories that do not comply with the minimum wage for workers in the clothing and textile industry seem to be losing the war after the Minister of Labour, Mildred Oliphant, gazetted the main agreement for the industry this week.

According to the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu) every clothing worker will now enjoy the protection of legislated minimum terms and conditions of employment.

“Especially up-to-date compulsory, guaranteed minimum wage levels as negotiated under the auspices of the National Bargaining Council for the Clothing Manufacturing Industry of South Africa,” the union explained.

This means that the non-compliant factories under the United Clothing and Textile Association (Ucta), which employs about 20 000, will now be forced to pay its workers the minimum wage.

Last year, the KwaZulu-Natal High Court ruled in favour of five Newcastle clothing manufacturers, which are part of Ucta, exempting non-complying companies from the extension of the 2010 National Bargaining Council wage agreement.

However, Sactwu said the new gazetted agreement would fix all the technical defects caused by this court’s decision.

Machinists make up 90 percent of workers in the industry.

Formal wages, according to the gazetted agreement for a non-metro machinist, are R663.74 per week and for a metro machinist R892.90 per week. Meanwhile, non-compliant companies pay their workers a minimum of R450 per week. Workers in non-compliant companies are also paid according to their production levels.

Ucta chairman Ahmed Paruk said the non-compliant firms were still calling for the bargaining council and the union to meet with them so that a new minimum wage dispensation could be discussed.

“We can’t pay a minimum wage, there is no way that these factories will ever be able to afford the minimum wage,” said Paruk

He said most of these factories operated as small-medium and micro enterprises (SMME) and therefore should not be compared to big formal firms. “If we are forced to pay the minimum wage people will be out of work and we would have more imports coming into the country.” The Department of Labour said the bargaining council would have to monitor that all companies were paying workers minimum wages.

Sactwu’s clothing sector national co-ordinator, Chris Gina, said the non-compliant employers could be monitored in two ways. The first approach would be for the union to use its audited list of factories across the country.

“The union has done an audit on how many companies need to increase wages and how many are not implementing the increase. We are going to disperse a team of union organisers and senior shop stewards to go to these companies and tell them about this main agreement and its implications.”

The second approach would be for the bargaining council to mobilise its inspectors to go to all factories and check if the minimum wage was being implemented. “As quick as next week Sactwu will launch a national team of organisers that will go to all the factories across the country to make sure that the agreement is implemented,” Gina said.

If it is not implemented, the union can use the “unseated authority clause” in the agreement and ballot for a strike.

“The union can ballot for a strike and force that particular employer through the strike to give employees the increase or the correct wage.”

Gina said: “There are quite a number of employers that are not compliant with minimum wages. we are saying to those employers instead of making noise outside of the bargaining council, they must join the employers’ association so that their views can actually be heard.”

Sactwu said the Minister of Labour had used her ministerial powers as enshrined in the Labour Relations Act to extend the agreement to every single clothing company.

“Sactwu welcomes this development as a ground-breaking victory.

“It is a solid indication that our current government cares about protecting the bargaining council-negotiated conditions of employment rights of clothing workers.”

The union said this was a significant act of compassion for tens of thousands of workers in vulnerable industries. “Especially in light of the destructive onslaught against our industry wage agreements by organisations such as the Free Market Foundation,” the union said.

The Free Market Foundation has launched a constitutional challenge to the collective bargaining system. It has also questioned some of the clauses in Sactwu’s proposal for the Bargaining Council Agreement for 2014 to 2016.

However, Sactwu’s general secretary, Andre Kriel, told Business Report that the main agreement gazetted this week did not include any negotiations raised before September last year.

“What has been gazetted on Monday is what has been negotiated up until last year. It does not include the new negotiations.”

He said the Free Market Foundation concern fell under the new proposals and negotiations had only just started.

Businessman and chairman of the Free Market Foundation, Herman Mashaba, said whoever was advocating for a minimum wage was not only destroying job creation but also the small businesses. “There is no way anywhere in the world that business can pay wages that they cannot afford. The consequences of this are that we going to see more unemployment in the country.”

He said people who were calling for a minimum wage did not care about the number of unemployed people.