Johannesburg – The Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) on Monday made an impassioned plea to government to tighten regulations of importing chickens from the European Union (EU) in a bid to save jobs in the South African poultry industry.
This comes after South Africa's biggest chicken producer, Rainbow Chicken, announced that it was selling 15 of its 25 farms in Hammarsdale in KwaZulu-Natal and retrenching 1,350 workers to remain a going concern as it struggles under heavy competition from cheap imported chickens.
A 38-year-old family-run business in Polokwane, Mike's Chickens, has already closed and put more than 1,000 people out of work.
In the Free State and North West, the country's third biggest chicken producer behind Astral Foods, Country Bird, is also retrenching 1,500 workers.
Fawu's general secretary, Katishi Masemola, said government must play an active role in addressing the EU dominance of South Africa's poultry market by employing anti-dumping duties, import tariffs and other stringent measures.
"We expected government to know the value of a social partner like our trade union when it signed an Economic Trade Agreement (ETA) with the EU, but we were ignored. We have a right to defend our industry," Masemola said.
"We don't fault companies under SA poultry producers because they cannot compete with EU chicken that is effectively subsidised. If our chickens were being allowed in the EU, or if fair competition existed between us, we could create between 20,000 and 30,000 jobs only in the poultry industry because we could export more chicken abroad."
According to the Sunday Tribune, the SA Poultry Association said about 530,000 tons of chicken were imported to South Africa last year.
Masemola said about 30 to 35 percent total consumption of poultry products in South Africa was imported from EU countries.
He said chicken breasts were being sold at premium prices in EU countries which dumped the rest of the birds' meat in South Africa because people from those European countries did not eat chicken wings, legs, and thighs.
"But in reality, the EU cannot compete with South Africa when it comes to whole chickens because we are competitive. EU countries cite 'technical barriers to trade' when they reject our poultry exports," Masemola said.
"Rainbow alone is losing about R1 million a day, which amounts to R30 million a month. It is sad because jobs are being lost in rural areas and in one of the most labour-intensive industries."
Masemola said Fawu had written to the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) when the EU poultry ETA was signed.
The department could not immediately provide comment on Monday.
Masemola said workers whose jobs were being threatened should not lose hope because Fawu would not rest until this issue was sorted.
"We are shocked at how slow our government is in responding to this issue. We will continue with rolling mass protest action to Parliament and to the office of the EU Commission's ambassador in Pretoria. All is not lost," Masemola said.
African News Agency