Department of Labour and law enforcement officers raided two Chinese companies in Industria, Johannesburg yesterday. Nhlanhla Phillips /African News Agency ANA
A joint law enforcement operation  pounced on Chinese-owned warehouses barricaded with corrugated sheets and sealed with iron bars in Industria, Joburg.

The Department of Labour, Home Affairs and the Hawks’ raid was carried out on Wednesday after tip-offs that the factories floors were manned by foreign nationals. The factories manufactured blankets and other bedding material such as comforters and bedspreads.

Malawian James Kaiss, 46, who works at one of the factories, said on a good week he earned about R1000, which he used to support his family who stayed with him in Tladi, Soweto.

“I have been working here for almost three years. I am sewing here at the factory; I sew comforters, bedspreads and other bedding. We work very hard here and the money that we are getting isn’t enough. I have a South African wife and son,” said Kaiss.

Department of Employment and Labour Inspector-General, Aggy Moiloa, said the factories would be closed.

“In terms of occupational health and safety the buildings are totally uninhabitable, no ventilation, no windows, even basic housekeeping isn’t being complied with,” she said.

Picture. Nhlanhla Phillips /African News Agency ANA

Moiloa said that some of the people took them to “their pathetic workstations where people go and prepare their meals. It is appalling, it’s like a pigsty, this company was an accident waiting to happen.”

She used the example of an employee working for R1 for each product he produced.

“For him to make R100 that day he has to sew more than 100 pillows. We are also looking at the basic conditions of employment, we are still looking at whether these businesses are registered,” she said.

Another Malawi national, Elias Samilu, 20, working in packaging, said he earned less than R100 a day.

Samilu said he had been working at the factory for two years, and that it was very tough.

“We sometimes work from five in the morning to 5pm, standing. When it gets busy we also work at night, we go to the toilet sometimes and we are even timed. You should be quick about your business,” said Samilu.

Mandla Hlatshwayo, who works at a company next door to the two Chinese factories, said that they were horrified when they saw the manner the workers were being treated. He was also very suspicious of how quickly desperate foreign nationals got their employment at the factory.

“We end up isolating them because they are being treated like animals at that place. When they enter the building, they do it in a group and leave in a group - it is eerie. You will never see them leave the gate even when we go out to lunch,” he said.

Hlatshwayo said that the factories were making lots of money and claimed that almost five containers arrived every day.

THe Deputy Director of Home Affairs’ Inspectorate head office, Tebogo Phokanoka, said there were suspicions that these foreign nationals could also be part of a trafficking ring.

“They did not enter through the ports of entry so that they could supply cheap labour,” she said.

Phokanoka said that all of the foreign nationals were illegal and the employers were facilitating illegal migration.

“I can only give you an estimation of the workers we found here in the two factories at 15 Maraisburg Road. The first company we found with about 17 people and at the second factory we found 26 more, mostly from Malawi and Zimbabweans,” she said.

Another two factories were also raided and 15 undocumented migrants, along with about 40 others, would be taken in to have their documentation verified or face deportation.