Fair play sought for retrenched chicken workers
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Johannesburg - The FairPlay Social Support Summit, called to help thousands of chicken industry workers rendered jobless by dumped chicken imports, will result in collaboration between non-profit development organisations and the private sector.
The one-day summit, held in partnership with the University of Johannesburg, was facilitated by the FairPlay anti-dumping movement, which has focused on the impact of dumped imports, particularly on industry workers and rural subsistence chicken farmers.
Dumped products, sold below the cost of production in the home country, have put the South African chicken industry into crisis, and thousands of jobs are at risk.
During the summit, a “Cry for Action” petition was finalised. It will be sent to President Jacob Zuma and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies.
The petition, with over 8000 signatories so far, calls on the government to act against dumping, to recognise the misery caused by dumping-related job losses, and to act urgently in the interests of those whose incomes are at risk.
“This has been a very successful gathering and it has exceeded our expectations,” said FairPlay founder Francois Baird.
“We set out today to address the plight of the thousands of South Africans who have lost their jobs because of dumping.
"Each job lost is a family in misery.
"Most of them have no other means of support, and finding new work, especially in rural areas, is difficult in a country with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.
“We came here with a number of important objectives, and we have achieved them.
"It has been very rewarding to see how people from across the spectrum are committed to find workable solutions to assist those most affected by dumping."
Baird stressed that the solutions were not only about money.
They would include retraining of workers and upliftment programmes where hard-hit communities could work on income-generating projects. Enterprise development and sustainable income generation will be a key focus of the support sought.
“FairPlay will serve as a conduit through which suggestions and proposals will be directed to the people who can help, and we call on all South Africans to add their voice - whether they can offer a job opportunity to a retrenched worker, a bursary or study assistance to the child of a retrenched worker; training to reskill workers who have lost jobs or merely to add their name to the Cry for Action petition - it's within everyone's reach to do something,” said Baird.
Earlier Baird had opened the summit by emphasising the impact of dumping on poor people in South Africa. The keynote address was delivered by Justice Richard Goldstone, an international jurist and former Constitutional Court judge, who is a FairPlay patron.
He said that the government should act to prevent predatory dumping, which he defined as dumped imports designed to kill the local industry.
“If the facts establish predatory dumping - that the party or parties dumping have as their motive or one of their motives the destruction of South African competitors - then the rule of law and fair play in trade dictate that on moral and legal grounds action should be taken.
“It would indeed be in the interests of the government to take such action against a practice that is doing damage to a very important industry and potentially causing a significant loss of employment for thousands of workers,” Goldstone said.
Thokosane Thabete, who had worked in the chicken industry for 30 years before she was retrenched in January, shared with summit attendees her concerns as an unemployed mother who can’t continue to provide an education for her children.
“My son is now in his first year of tertiary education, but without a job I can’t provide for him for next year.
“Where will he go? Will he join the youngsters on the street who hang around because they don't have jobs?”
The spectre of crime and drugs in a community who has suddenly fallen on hard times due to mass retrenchments is a real worry for her and her neighbours, she said.
Among the plans that emerged from the Summit was an undertaking to look into the Consumer Protection Act and its provisions in terms of food labelling, as dumped imports often end up in shops without having their origins clearly specified, which has implications for food safety.
In his closing address, Marthinus Stander, chief executive of Country Bird, South Africa’s third-largest chicken producer and an executive member of the SA Poultry Association, said if bird flu could be contained, and with swift and decisive action by government to prevent continued dumping, the South African chicken industry could grow instead of contract.
“If government acts, we can halt or reduce future retrenchments. The reality is that the effects of the retrenchments that have already taken place will remain with us.”
Stander said co-ordinated action to help those most affected would remain a priority. Thanking participants for their input, he told them their work was far from over - “it has only just started.”