Playtex liquidates after 60 years, hundreds left unemployed

The underwear manufacturer Playtex in Jacobs, Durban will close and over 700 employees will lose their jobs. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo / African News Agency (ANA)

The underwear manufacturer Playtex in Jacobs, Durban will close and over 700 employees will lose their jobs. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo / African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 29, 2021


Durban - More than 700 workers from the underwear manufacturer Playtex will join the growing queues at the unemployment office after a decision was made to liquidate the 60-year-old company.

Staff were notified on January 7 that Hanes South Africa Pty had filed for liquidation a day earlier and that all activities were immediately suspended. This meant staff would not return to work on January 11 as scheduled. Instead, the premises in Lawley Street, Jacobs would remain closed.

“This was a difficult decision and we know the impact on employees,” said an SMS to employers. “You will be treated fairly and we have taken necessary steps to ensure that all guaranteed termination rights will be fulfilled according to South Africa’s law.”

The employees were paid their salaries and benefits until January 15, but what happens next is what worries them. Some have been with the company for decades. They are concerned that, given the current state of the economy, they will not find new work.

A 54-year-old employee, who ensured orders were correctly dispatched, said the SMS surprised her.

“Why were we not informed earlier that we should prepare for job losses?,” asked the Chatsworth mother of two. “While they have paid us something for January, what do we do thereafter? How long will the UIF help me take care of my family?

“I am a sole breadwinner and I have five mouths to feed, including my elderly mother. Whatever I receive from my pension fund, it will go towards paying off debt. What will be left with to survive until I die? Also, at my age, who is going to hire me?"

She said she had hoped to retire from the company when she turned 60.

“In all these years, unless there was an emergency, I was never late for work. I shared a bond with my co-workers, who were more like family. We never even got to say goodbye to each other.”

A co-worker, 36, of Phoenix, said she was saving towards her daughter’s tertiary studies.

“I have been putting away a few hundred rands every month. My daughter will be in Grade 11 this year and she needs to apply to university. Now I have to hunt for money.”

She said during the initial lockdown, Playtex closed from the end of March until June. She used some of her savings to keep her home going because her husband, a self-employed shop fitter, had no work.

“His business was affected by the lockdown and we had to survive. When I returned to work, I started to save again and hoped to continue this year. School will reopen in February and I need money for my children’s fees, uniforms and stationery. I have submitted my CV and I am praying I get any job. I am young, so I hope someone will give me a chance.”

A clerk at the company, 49, of Chatsworth, said he feared he would not find a job. He has worked at Playtex for eight years.

“I was retrenched about 10 years ago after working at another company, but I managed to get a job as a general worker at Playtex. Last year, I started working as a clerk and I intended to apply for a position as a compiler this year.

“Then, this SMS came. I immediately started calling around to find out if anyone was looking for a general worker or clerk. We will only collect UIF for a few months, and it will only be a portion of our salary. What will I do after that? I will turn 50 this year. Who will hire me?”

Shaun Jinnah, 45, of Phoenix, has worked for Playtex for 22 years. He started at the packing department, moved to dispatch and then the marketing department.

“As a sole supporter of my family, I have worked hard to ensure I always did my best. Every day was a blessing to know I had a job. Since receiving the SMS, I have been stressed. If we were told in December that we would lose our jobs, I could have started looking elsewhere. Now, with businesses closing during the pandemic and staff losing their jobs, it is going to be difficult.”

International investor, Hanes South Africa PTY, which operated the 60-year-old Playtex, said in a statement after careful consideration, the board decided to file for creditors voluntary liquidation. It said it believed it would be the best outcome for staff and other affected parties.

“The decision to file for liquidation follows the placing in business rescue of a major client of the business, as well as the ongoing poor economic conditions in South Africa, which have been exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19.”

However, the decision to liquidate meant 735 employees would lose their jobs.

"We are committed to ensuring our employees are treated fairly and that they will receive all termination rights in respect of South African labour laws.”

It said the liquidators were appointed on January 13 and the liquidation process has started.

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