SEA OF RED: Workers from various companies in the food and beverage sector marched to Parliament yesterday to hand over a memorandum demanding action against illegal trade dealings in the country. Picture: David Ritchie/ African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - For mother-of-two Ntom­bekhaya Mhlabeni, the march to Parliament by Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), was not just about high­lighting the effects of illicit trade on the country’s economy, but was to ensure job security so she can provide for her family.

Mhlabeni, a County Fair employee, along with many others representing various companies in the food and beverage sector, marched to to hand over a memorandum to the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete. They said the illegal trade was costing “our country 10% GDP, robbing us as workers and robbing our government from revenue to be paid in taxes”.

They asked that chicken no longer be imported, as it was harming the county’s own industry and resulting in job losses.

Mhlabeni said: “I am here because the government needs to stop bringing chicken from overseas. It is causing us to lose our jobs and we have families to feed.”

Fawu president Attwell Nazo said the illicit trade had been left unattended for too long.

“The majority of cigarettes are coming here illegally and not taxed. We are questioning where these cigarettes are being manufactured. Those that are already paying tax are being squeezed to the bone.”

“There are warehouses mushrooming, but no industry to produce. We don’t want warehouses - we want industry to create jobs for our people.”

The memorandum de­manded that the sugar tax not be signed into law, but that it be renegotiated with Fawu before it could cost ­thousands of job losses.

The union also called for amendments to the Tobacco Act Regulations to prevent the trade of illicit cigarettes, and amendments to the Liquor Bill Regulations which they say would not allow students to do internships at liquor-affiliated companies at the age of 18.

Katishi Masemola, Fawu’s secretary-general said: “Policymakers are talking about laws that affect us. We hope the Speaker will bring this debate as a matter of urgency. Fawu represents the majority of workers in these industries, but are excluded from the National Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).”

Moleko Phakedi, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) deputy general secretary, said: “The ineffectiveness and inability of the government to control illicit trade brings unnecessary suffering to those who are unemployed as they lose all hope of potential employment. It creates unnecessary suffering for small-scale business owners and legal corporations who have to pay taxes, while illegal traders do not.”

The memorandum was accepted by Peter Lebeko.